Category Archives: Columns

Editor’s Note: Scaling back, changing approach and preparing for shutdown

This site has been such a significant creative outlet, and the past eight months were incredibly exciting and immensely fulfilling. Unfortunately, however, MovieMinis likely won’t last.

Running this site during my senior year at college has been difficult. The inconsistency of content — and the inability to publicize that content as strategically as I would’ve liked — has resulted in a flat, stunted and almost non-existent readership. A lack of readership means that there won’t be enough money to renew my WordPress business plan. And as I search for jobs post-graduation, I won’t be able to commit to the monstrous task of turning this site into something profitable before the plan runs out in August.

Considering the situation, MovieMinis will be scaling back and changing its approach for the remainder of its existence. We will no longer post any news content and the category will be taken off the front page. Reviews will be the main focus of the site, but there will still be projects and lists here and there.

Rather than continue to try to make this a serious film website, it will revert to being a film blog, which means adopting the approach and format of a film blog. That means that I will become the main source of content, and that it will mainly be about the reviews.

I love every single writer that contributed to this website over the past eight months. I am so grateful for them and beyond honored by their contributions. Growing with them as writers and friends has been a highlight of this year and the last. Spending hours putting together the MovieMini Awards was a hilarious and painful journey that I’m glad I had with them.

Many of them will still contribute in some capacity. But it will no longer be a “team” per se. I want this blog to be a platform for them to write and show off their writing, so their contributions are welcome for as long as MovieMinis still exits, but we won’t necessarily be rallying together as a “staff.” In fact, there won’t be a “staff” anymore — only a set of contributors.

And like I mentioned before, the business plan runs out in August. Unless this site gets enough readers in that time to make enough money not only to renew it, but to warrant further time and effort put into it, I won’t renew it. I don’t know what happens to a site when the plan is not renewed. But, after that, I will be going back to a basic free blog for personal reviews and projects. I might even switch over to another platform, such as Medium.

While readership has been almost non-existent, there are certainly those of you who tuned in for a lot of our content. So, I want to say thank you. Writing is an art form, a form of personal and creative expression. It takes a lot of energy to “write something.” But when someone reads it, when even one person reads it, it means something. If you’re reading this and have tuned into our content before — and even to the people not reading this who have tuned into our content — thank you. You have helped make these eight months mean something.

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Hooman Yazdanian’s Favorite Scene of 2017: Coach directing The Tempest — ‘Lady Bird’

In a year full of heartwarming or, alternatively, emotionally devastating scenes, my favorite is not necessarily either one of those. I would argue that it’s probably not even the best in Lady Bird. But it’s without a doubt the funniest scene in any movie, maybe in years.

After the original priest (Stephen McKinley Henderson) who runs plays for Lady Bird’s high school leaves to attend to his mental health, he’s replaced by the ill-equipped JV football coach, Father Walther (Bob Stephenson), who is tasked with directing The Tempest. We get a quick glimpse at what a tough time he’ll have upon his introduction, when he asks the whole cast to take a knee, but he gets his chance to shine at the blackboard, where he stages the play.

Stephenson is excellent at the blackboard, confidently fumbling with what form this should actually take. He’s doing his best — no one will ever say he lacked intensity — but obviously knows he’s out of his element. He has one actor running “a post route” to get to their spot on stage, while drawing lines aggressively to signify it’s time for another actor to be singing.

The camera shows the high schoolers sitting on the floor, vigorously taking notes to jot this all down. The scene is funny immediately — as is the conceit — and, as it keeps going, gets funnier and funnier.

This scene is the only one in Lady Bird that feels a bit absurdist, but the trope of a coach being thrown in charge of something they’re not qualified for is a familiar one. In Mean Girls, it’s Coach Carr teaching health. At my school, it was the wrestling coach suddenly leading an AP Chemistry class for a few weeks. In Lady Bird, it happens to produce the year’s funniest scene.

 

Featured image via A24.

Kyle Kizu’s Favorite Scene of 2017: The Oil — ‘Dunkirk’

It’s hard to know where and how to start writing about the climax of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. There is so much going on, not only in what’s happening on screen, but also in how everything builds to that point — and that doesn’t even take into account that much of the scene jumps around in time. That it all works, that it all coalesces into an absolutely mesmerizing sight of overwhelming intensity is beyond astonishing.

I define the climax as everything that happens once Hans Zimmer’s “The Oil” starts playing and until it stops. So, that starts right after the little ships arrive, when those on the Moonstone first see the destroyer bombed, and ends when Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is finally pulled up onto the Moonstone as it flees the water on fire.

The climax folds the three storylines on top of each other, amplifying the tension that they’ve individually held throughout the first two-thirds of the movie and producing pure exhilaration immediately. The whole film is essentially crafted as a climax, so this moment is the climax of the climax. It’s almost unfair.

The most effective work the sequence does is a bit subtle, but it’s present from its very first shot: there’s a constant negotiation between the intimate, personal perspective and the massive event, full of masses of people.

As the Moonstone approaches the bombed destroyer, we, through the camera, stand on the boat with them, seeing the huge army ship go down far off in the distance. It’s a raw, human, gripping perspective, the framing of the destroyer through the front window of the Moonstone as terrifying and transfixing for us as it is for Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), whose distraught face we cut to.

The sequence then cuts to shots of the masses of soldiers loading onto the little ships from the beaches. The shots are strangely tranquil, nearly still and holding longer than most shots do, allowing the pure process of the evacuation, and how truly massive it is, to sink in without romanticizing it.

The rest of the sequence is much of the same. If we get, for example, a perspective shot from behind Tommy as he swims through the water to try to find safety on the destroyer, only to realize that it’s sinking — a 12 second shot, which is far longer than most action shots — we get a shot of the tens of soldiers trying to find their way off, sliding down the side of the ship or jumping off before getting trapped underwater.

There are multiple intimate perspectives throughout the sequence: that of Tommy, the Moonstone and Farrier. And there are multiple large scale portions: the soldiers loading from the beach, the soldiers on the sinking destroyer, the soldiers in the water and the soldiers loading onto the boats near the destroyer.

We, the viewer, are disoriented on multiple occasions, seeing the destroyer sink at the beginning of the scene from the Moonstone’s perspective before jumping back in time to see it again from Tommy’s — not to mention that we saw it sink from Farrier’s perspective earlier in the film.

It’s all jarring and chaotic — frantic, desperate bodies filling the screen as they fight to survive. And Hans Zimmer’s “The Oil” only makes it more so, leveraging the Shepard Tone, the illusion of rising tension, while also actually adding layers and volume as the music builds to its own climax. The piece feels invasive, as though it’s taking control of our own bodies, throwing them into the water and forcing them to fight too.

It’s so chaotic because it’s meant to be. It’s so chaotic because the filmmaking is not. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is all-encompassing, immersive, breathtaking and, as said before, perspective-based, placing us into the water, onto the boats and within the cockpit. The sound design is absolutely haunting, a brutalist atmosphere of bodies splashing in water, creaking ships, gunfire, explosions and, most impactfully, screaming voices. The editing is almost balletic, cutting with intensity, but also with fluidity at each turn, rendering the entire sequence into a beauty of movement both in-frame and between frames. And the structural give-and-take is stunning — particularly at the sequence’s climax, when Farrier stops the German bomber only for it to crash into the water and cause the fire, and at the sequence’s release, when a soldier’s life is violently taken in the midst of crackling fire just as Tommy’s life is saved as he’s revealed as the soldier being dragged alongside the escaping Moonstone.

Even with all that’s been said, it’s hard to feel as though I’ve done the sequence justice. There are so many intangible, particularly visual layers to it that can only be absorbed by watching it. I hope that I’ve been able to unpack some aspects of it. But what I’ve written this all for, anyway, is for you to revisit it, for you to give it another watch.

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Sophie-Marie Prime’s Favorite Scene of 2017: Remember Me — ‘Coco’

Coco is a vibrant film not just for the incredibly intricate world it builds in the “Land of the Dead,” but for the life it imagines for the ancestors of its central character, an aspiring young musician named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez).

In the film’s first act, we get to see Miguel interact with several generations of his devoted family, including his parents, abuelita and his great-grandmother, Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía). It’s clear that his family wants Miguel to be included and to be part of their legacy — it’s their prerogative to keep the family together, and they see music as something that would tear them all apart. Family is at the core of this film, and it’s blissfully sentimental.

Several scenes from Coco are standouts — the first sight of the Land of the Dead, the revelation of the identity of Miguel’s long-lost great-great-grandfather and ancestral reunions on the other side come to mind — but the most special moment of the film comes after Miguel finally returns to the Land of the Living. Having met Coco’s long-lost father in the Land of the Dead, Miguel’s number one priority is going to Coco and reminding her of her father.

You see, Coco hardly speaks throughout the film — in truth, her visual appearance is also a rare treat — but her presence is felt in every scene. Each family member, living and gone, is there because of her. She is the core of the family. The fact that death will soon find her is made less tragic after we’ve seen her parents waiting for her in the Land of the Dead, especially because we know her family will not forget her in the Land of the Living.

And so, it is deeply affecting when Miguel plays a song for Coco, one her father wrote for her before he disappeared, as she smiles brilliantly and sings along.

 

Featured image via Pixar.

Levi Hill’s Favorite Scene of 2017: Goodbyes — ‘Call Me by Your Name’/’Lady Bird’

There were countless scenes from 2017 in film that I absolutely cherished, that truly changed my perspectives of what cinema could still do. As early as February, Jordan Peele shook me back awake with Get Out and the most audacious, bold and socially critical scene of film last year when we finally see the Sunken Place.

Dunkirk had masterfully edited and shot moment after moment (thank you Nolan, Smith and Hoytema), but the one that stuck with me is the death of George (Barry Keoghan) by the simple, frenzied mistake of Cillian Murphy’s unnamed character accidentally pushing him down the stairs — thus making apparent the tragedies and anxiety war brings to soldiers and civilians.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi featured countless memorable moments within the canon, but watching Luke walk out in front of the entire First Order, to selflessly and heroically give himself up (sort of) to allow Leia, Poe and Finn to escape, was an earth-shatteringly epic moment in a film full of them.

But to me, it was two goodbye scenes in two of the year’s most acclaimed films that emotionally devastated me unlike any other film did: the airport goodbye in Lady Bird and the train goodbye in Call Me by Your Name. The greatness of both lies in that the scenes take place later in their films, when both central characters — Christine “Lady Bird” (Saoirse Ronan) and Elio (Timothée Chalamet) — have almost gone through the entirety of their coming-of-age arcs. Yet, both films place an emphasis on the most important supporting characters in the films — Lady Bird’s mom Marion (Laurie Metcalf) and Elio’s lover Oliver (Armie Hammer).

In Lady Bird, Christine is about to go off to college in New York, and her mother and father take her to the airport. Her mother, though, is upset Christine did not make her aware of the financial burden that the NY school would put on her family, and she coldly drives away, leaving her husband (Tracy Letts) to say goodbye to Christine alone. However, as Marion begins to pull out, she realizes she’s leaving her only daughter at the most important part of her life. Marion, as performed by Metcalf, begins to cry and have a panic attack about her choice — and the camera just stays closely locked to her heartbreakingly lived-in reaction to what she just did. By the time she makes it back to the terminal, Christine is gone and she falls into her husband’s arms. It’s a tragic scene of a mother coming to terms with how important her daughter, for as much as they argue and disagree, means to her very being.

For Call Me by Your Name, the scene in question has a just-as-devastating meaning, but one devoid of any anger. Instead, Oliver is about to make his way back to America, after spending a long, romantic weekend with Elio alone after a summer at Elio and his parents’ home in Italy. The two must finally say goodbye to each other after being so intimate emotionally and physically over the past few weeks. Yet, it’s the 1980s and both characters have been private about their love for each other in public, possibly in fear of others not understanding the passion they share. So, when Oliver finally embraces Elio, not with a kiss, but a simple, friendly hug, as both fight tears coming to terms with this being the likely end of their love, Call Me by Your Name makes perfectly clear the intimate bonds people make with each other, as well the burgeoning heartbreak one feels when they have to say goodbye.

Both films, in their almost wordless simplicity of how people do or don’t say goodbye, captured the essence of love, familial and romantic. What could be more timely and important to life than knowing when it’s time to say goodbye?

 

Featured image via Sony Pictures Classics/A24.

Cinema of 2017 has reminded us that we’re still enough

“That’s enough.”

Two words spoken by a blind man to a young soldier returning home from a hellscape of endless gunfire and explosions. This young soldier, evacuated from a “colossal military disaster,” feels shameful for his cowardice, that he let his people down. But a blind man out late it the cold, handing blankets to these boys, speaks truth to what really happened.

This young soldier survived. And that’s enough.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

In a year that’s been hell-bent on breaking us, it’s difficult to feel as though we’re enough. Our hope that goodness will still prevail dims. Our attempts to steer our course back on track often feel futile. So, we need that reminder: that, maybe, survival is enough.

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk leaves us with that lingering idea. But, in fact, it seems as though all of cinema in 2017 has been about some form, shade or side of the notion that we’re still enough.

That’s what stories are really meant to do — reinvigorate us when we’re low, open up new paths of thinking when we feel trapped, help us understand ourselves when we just can’t.

Love, and not just some passing idea of it, but true love, is hard to come by when we’ve been so numbed by hate. When we’ve been nearly forced to feel nothing so as not to feel so much negativity, it’s hard to feel as though we can seek love out.

But Call Me by Your Name reminds us that we’re still enough.

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

Through the soft, vulnerable, yet fiery passionate words of Mr. Perlman, we confront the fact that feeling, especially feeling the bad, is necessary to help us hold onto the reality of love, even when passed or lost. We’re reminded that we’re enough for love, that we deserve it in our lives and should never lose grasp of what it means. And for the LGBTQ+ folks who see themselves, this story has the chance to be powerful visibility and hold genuine truths that remind them that, despite the world that continues to subject them to hatred, their love is still enough.

Hatred does seem to be everywhere, though, and it’s difficult to avoid it with it so rampant. It’s difficult not to let hatred invade us, and it’s difficult to feel as though there’s a future without it in some shape or form, in ourselves or in others.

But Hostiles mends a bridge between hatred and empathy, and forces us to reconcile our differences and our pasts.

Entertainment Studios/Courtesy

In the face of true tragedy, hatred is overwhelming, but it can be overcome. As shown by the journey that Joseph Blocker and Yellow Hawk take together, hatred can be left behind by the realization that those that so many have deemed “the other,” in truth, share a simple goal: to live and survive. The film forces us to confront a genocide by white men, and to see a future where we protect survival. It takes us through hell and back, and asks us to reflect on hatred in our world today by positing that going through hell can lead to, instead of hatred, stronger bonds of understanding.

Not everyone suffers from direct hatred, though. So much of our society and so much of a certain sector of people’s internalized thinking are built to slowly prey on and subject others. That subjectification can be so difficult to combat because it is not only everywhere, but seemingly hidden everywhere. And it’s difficult to feel like you’re enough when you live in that world.

But Jordan Peele, with Get Out, sees a world where that base is broken, and its effects are overcome.

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

In a stunning moment, Chris picks cotton out of the chair he’s bound to and stuffs it in his ears to save him from the Armitages. America built itself on slavery, which left generational trauma. But Black folks have found so much in how they’ve overcome and how they’ve turned that history into power to fight the remnants of it. And it’s the very power that helps Chris that can help others cope, to find a similar power that reminds them that, in this world, they’re still enough.

There are many aspects of the institutions that must be reshaped, as the entire country and many parts of the world have confronted over the past few months of women, and men, breaking the silence on sexual harassment and sexual assault. It’s a poison that’s everywhere and we’re not finished breaking that silence. We likely won’t be for a long time, and to encounter such massive, widespread pain that feels neverending is difficult. It’s tough to feel like we’re enough to eradicate this problem.

But Wonder Woman envisions every woman as a warrior, and the rest of us as people that can aid in her fight.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

In the film, the evil of mankind — keyword “man” — is not caused by some spell and it’s not something that will just go away, either. Yet, through the everlasting hope and fight of Diana, we see that there is something better ahead. Patty Jenkins helps us see that, with love, we’re enough to counteract evil.

It will, however, take all of us, and that’s a tall order. This year has beaten us brutally, every part of us drained to some degree, which has made it hard to feel as though we’re enough to band together, to feel that we can exert that last breath to be a part of something bigger.

And that’s where Star Wars comes in.

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi envisions a new type of hero, a hero that’s in every one of us, even and especially those who come from so little amidst galactic-sized oppression. We don’t need special parents. We don’t need to be on the front lines. We don’t need to always be attacking. What we need and what we all have, even in a small boy who sweeps stables, is a little bit of hope.

After the hellscape that was 2017, we survived. And right now, that’s enough. But that’s not all. Moving forward, we will continue our defiance.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

“We must expect another blow to be struck almost immediately.” But “we shall go on to the end.”

“We shall never surrender.”

We may feel small, like nameless and faceless people that history won’t remember if we do make it out. But Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk believes in the nameless, in the faceless, as that’s where heroics come from. Winston Churchill’s words were a rallying cry, but they’re far more powerful when read by someone for whom they were intended: a young soldier who just survived the unimaginable. That’s where heroics come from.

And cinema can remind us of that. Stories are a part of human history and have only become a bigger part of our lives because of their unending power. They remind us to feel, to love, to leave hate behind, to find strength in ourselves, both individual and collective — and not just the ones mentioned above. Films like The Shape of Water, Mudbound, Logan and, a bit more explicitly, The Post all carry a similar vitality.

Right when we needed it most, film of 2017 reminded us that we’re still enough.

 

Featured image via Warner Bros./Universal Pictures/Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Opinion: Why I value ‘Batman v Superman’ more than a film like ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

*Spoilers for ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’*

To be necessarily clear, Thor: Ragnarok is a far better film than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There is no debate. But that’s not the question here.

The question is of value — something that’s rather subjective and, thus, changes from person to person. In regard to both of these films, I personally see a difference in what value they add to the superhero genre, and in what value they hold as films in general. There’s no doubting that Thor: Ragnarok has great value if only considering the fact that more people now know who Taika Waititi is. The film is also stunning to look at, a visually beautiful and coherently composed comic book movie — a rarity among the miles of grey muck that have become a staple in the very universe that I’m about to make a case for.

But when thinking about which film I value more, I quite easily gravitate to Batman v Superman. Again, to be clear, it’s not a good film. It’s a perfect example of sloppy storytelling. But I find myself hooked by the story Batman v Superman wants to tell more than the story Thor: Ragnarok does. The third Thor film is rather clean, generally well-executed storytelling — yet I feel so little depth in its ideas. With Batman v Superman, I’ve yet to mine all of the intricacies behind its ugly mask.

Thor: Ragnarok is not without its share of fascinating ideas. Introducing Hela as Thor’s sister and revealing that Odin did not come to Asgard in peace, but rather as a conqueror, present brilliantly complex conflict for both the story and for Thor, our main character. Smashing Thor’s hammer in the first act is a necessary kind of superhero deconstruction, asking who this character is without his most powerful weapon. And using biblical and immigrant imagery, to the tone of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, sets up the climax to be gripping and emotional.

But Ragnarok gets lost in its second act and fails to execute what it wants to do with its third. The planet of Sakaar has the ingredients to carry the story’s thematic concerns along through the film’s middle — a dictator who subjects his people to Roman-like arena death battles while most live in poverty. It had the chance to be a mirror to Asgard and to help Thor learn what he must to be able to come back and dethrone Hela.

But the film’s greatest asset, its comedy, also washes over this potential. While moments such as Thor and Hulk bantering in Hulk’s room or Korg being the one of the most hilarious characters in the MCU are entertaining, they’re given too much time. The film tips overboard in its improvisation without considering what that might do to the development of the story and to the arc of Thor.

To be brutally honest, I feel as though the second act flatlines in hindsight. It’s fun, but once we get to the third act and realize that Thor has to defend his people, take down Hela and make the choice to leave Asgard behind, we realize that the second act wasn’t enough — not even close to enough. Thor taking on Hela should’ve held so much more weight; this is his sister and, if he can love Loki like a true brother, he should be much more conflicted about Hela. It shouldn’t feel as though we’re watching Thor “beat” her, but more so overcome this part of his family that naturally leans toward ruling rather than leading. Thus, the thematic imagery at the end, of the people of Asgard fleeing across the bridge, doesn’t hit home emotionally.

In essence, I find only so much value in Thor: Ragnarok as a superhero film. It’s hilarious, but even the jokes fall flat once the story does.

While the way in which it tells its story is muddled, on a conceptual level, I see a consistency of interest in what Batman v Superman wants to do throughout its entirety.

The opening does so much work, driving home the character motivation of Bruce Wayne with harrowing, 9/11-esque visuals. It perfectly juxtaposes the two characters and sets up the dynamic between Batman and Superman — a man and a god.

Throughout the film, in every layer, this is what’s at stake. Bruce Wayne fears the power of a god, that, at any moment, this god could wipe out millions of lives. Each moment with Bruce Wayne is gripping as his character traverses an arc of growing anger. On the other hand, Superman grapples with the fact that he’s provoking so much fear. He’s a character who believes in good and is challenged when he sees that his efforts for good don’t inspire more of it in mankind. Some have contended that Zack Snyder’s portrayal of Superman goes against who the character is and, to be fair, I’m not aware of who exactly the character is in the comics. But there’s a logic to the direction of his character in this world that Snyder created.

This tension is extended to Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and to Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, as both are concerned with the same thing — Superman’s power — but tackle that concern in different ways. Luthor’s backstory, having a German father who “had to march in a parade and wave flowers at tyrants,” which is heavy with implications, informs this intensely vengeful distaste for a figure with such tyrannical potential. Seeing Luthor force this god to his knees by threatening his humanity — his mother — is the kind of superhero imagery I want; it’s visually brilliant on an aesthetic level, but even more so because of its thematic level.

In regard to Superman’s humanity, Batman v Superman’s climax, the Martha moment, is horrendously executed. It’s terrible, and there’s no defending how it was portrayed. But it’s unfair to write off the concept there as equally terrible because it’s consistent with the story’s development. The only way Bruce can overcome his anger for Superman is to see him as Clark, to see him as a human being. So while the execution is poor, the idea is admirable. And to have man actually best god is even more admirable.

And, once Batman and Superman have reconciled, to then have man and god face the devil — Doomsday, who is created by man — is another sign of thematic consistency, and becomes even more engaging when it’s god who sacrifices himself for a mankind that never truly believed in him.

It may sound like I’m touting Batman v Superman as a brilliant movie, but I’m not. I’m simply admiring the deep fascination and care it has for story and character, regardless of how bad its storytelling is. That’s where the difference is for me. In Thor: Ragnarok, I see adept storytelling, but so much less care for character and story. While its execution is cleaner, it feels more hollow.

In essence, I’m admiring ambition. I value the attempt of Batman v Superman more so than the success of Thor: Ragnarok. I want superhero films that genuinely want to do something great with its characters.

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

When Harry Met Movies: The immortal words of Marty McFly — Column

Back to the Future is a film I adore, and I distinctly remember watching it as a senior in high school, laughing along to the jokes, feeling the mental sizzle as iconic lines burned themselves into my memory and wondering why I hadn’t seen it sooner. Unlike many of the films I love, Back to the Future wasn’t something I was brought up on as a child, but something a close friend of mine introduced me to.

We met in the summer between fourth and fifth grade, at a tennis camp which neither of us enjoyed nor attended voluntarily — my parents’ last ditch attempt to inspire some degree of athleticism worthy of three prior generations of swimming, running, tennis ball thrashing Tunggals. The only thing tennis camp inspired was a great deal of sweat and indignation, intensified because I forgot my water bottle on the first day. Andrew gave me one of his.

Seven years later, I was backstage with my band about to perform “Johnny B. Goode” at a school concert. Sure, I had a sunburst-red Les Paul hanging from my shoulder, but I wasn’t Jimmy Page as much as I was Lawrence from School of Rock, before he puts on sunglasses and a cape. The pre-cape Lawrences of the world hardly introduce their bands before an audience, and I sure as hell didn’t know what to say.

“Say, ‘This is an oldie. Well, it’s an oldie where I come from,’” Andrew suggested, sensing my nerves, as friends do after years of classes, choir rehearsals and debate conventions. “You know, like Back to the Future.” It was a reference I didn’t get yet, but I knew that movie was famous enough that it might break the ice for the audience. So I said it, eschewing both Jimmy Page and Lawrence for Marty McFly, and tore into that immortal B flat blues riff.

Some time after, I finally got around to watching Back to the Future. Some time after that, I watched its sequel, the one where franchise-villain Biff Tannen becomes the rich tyrant of Hill Valley. Some time later, Biff Tannen was elected President, and the February after that, Andrew texted me about how jealous he was that Milo Yiannopoulos was going to speak on my campus. To quote Marty McFly, that was heavy.

Back to the Future is Andrew’s favorite film trilogy — not the original Star Wars movies, not The Lord of the Rings, not Toy Story. So it boggles my mind how he, or anyone, could see Biff Tannen as the hero of the story, let alone a valid presidential candidate. The writers of the films certainly don’t, admitting that Biff, who owns a casino, poses in front of a portrait of himself and seizes political power, was based on Donald Trump.

In a video essay about the career of George Lucas, Alejandro Villarreal edits together clips of Lucas’ own interviews to create a retrospective on the Star Wars creator. Lucas says “I only hope that those who have seen Star Wars recognize the Emperor when they see him.” I know for a fact that Andrew has seen Star Wars. We made a fan film for a school project once.

Finding that a friend I’ve known for so long differs from myself on such a basic level is difficult to process, but what’s even more frustrating is how film as a medium seems to betray its own limitations. Films are messages and lessons conveyed through good stories, humor, thrills and tears. Films are empathy machines, as Roger Ebert says, allowing us to see the world from another perspective, filtered through a camera lens. But what if the machine doesn’t work on everybody? What if the message is lost in the machinations of a plot, a good belly laugh or a well-timed scare?

I don’t have any answers, but if there’s a film out there that does, I’m all ears.

‘When Harry Met Movies’ is a bi-weekly column from Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic Harrison Tunggal about movies that shape us and why we love them.

 

Featured image via Universal Pictures.

When Harry Met Movies: Breaking Out the Nostalgia Goggles — Column

I remember going to see Ex Machina with my parents, and pointing to a standee in the movie theater lobby. It was Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle with a pack of velociraptors flanking him. I don’t remember what exactly I said, but it might have been something like this. I was excited, not just because I was about to see Oscar Isaac get his disco on, but because in a month, Jurassic World was going to take me back to Isla Nublar, a place where I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time cavorting about.

I am speaking figuratively, of course, but I’m sure toddler Harry would refute that statement. Donning my Alan Grant fedora — I never called it an “Indiana Jones hat” — I would spend untold, infinite hours on that island taming (plastic) dinosaurs, watching them fight and sometimes feeding them Batman and Han Solo.

If you couldn’t already tell, Jurassic Park has always had a special place in my heart. It’s one of the first movies I ever remember watching, as evidenced by the chewed-on, mostly destroyed cardboard sleeve that barely houses my VHS copy of it. Why my parents let their three year old watch a movie featuring Samuel L. Jackson’s severed arm, I’ll never know, but they’re awesome because of it.

Fast forward to November 25, 2014, and I was a senior in high school. I was in the midst of college applications, one of which was destined for the University of Chicago, where I was hoping to take Paul Sereno’s (more or less, Alan Grant in real life) paleontology class, go on a summer dig, discover some new and fantastic species of dinosaur and make all those hours spent in Isla Nublar worth something. But at the moment, none of that mattered, because I was trying to hide the fact that I was watching the Jurassic World teaser trailer in class. There it was, at 2:12, Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle next to freaking velociraptors. For a hot second, I was three again.

Actually watching Jurassic World was a different experience entirely — I wasn’t three years old with a too-big fedora on; I was a crotchety old man waving his fist in the air, smelling vaguely of prune juice, yelling at Colin Trevorrow to get off my lawn. The film didn’t resurrect dinosaurs as much as it did nostalgia for dinosaurs, and if anyone was going to buy into it, it would have been me.

And yet, the nostalgia goggles didn’t make the film’s characters seem any less two dimensional. Moreover, there’s an insidious cynicism that such nostalgia inspires, as if to say remember the good ol’ days? Great! Because it’s not going to get much better than that. Nostalgia makes progress impossible, setting standards so far back in time that the laws of physics and the fictionality of a time-hopping DeLorean make them impossible to achieve.

Yearning for glory days long past, rather than imagining ones still to come, makes Jurassic World seem like the guy that hangs out in the high school parking lot next to the football field, futilely trying to retain some tenuous grasp on a history that will never be repeated. And somewhat frustratingly, nothing sells quite like nostalgia — the current cinematic landscape thrives on it.

Of course, not every film that looks fondly on the past is doomed to mediocrity. It, steeped in 80’s culture, is proving to be one of the biggest critical and commercial hits of the year, and later this week, Blade Runner 2049 promises immaculate, mind-bending sci-fi. But it’s worth remembering that nostalgia also gave us the MAGA cap.

Nostalgia shouldn’t be something to eschew completely — I’ll always look back fondly on my childhood obsession with Jurassic Park, but I’m not going to bust out my Alan Grant hat, and start lassoing plastic dinosaurs. I’ll write about it instead.

‘When Harry Met Movies’ is a bi-weekly column from Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic Harrison Tunggal about movies that shape us and why we love them.

 

Featured image via Universal Pictures.

When Harry Met Movies: First Impressions — Column

This site lists me as Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic, but a more accurate title might be Executive Film Noob For Life. The Social Network is a film that I should probably watch instead of writing this column, while Seven Samurai and Mulholland Drive are films that I should watch before doing either of those things. I know that Citizen Kane is THE CITIZEN KANE of all films past, present and forthcoming, but don’t ask me to tell you why. I think it’s because there’s a snow globe of particular symbolic weight, but that’s the best I can do. Neither can I tell you anything about Fellini, other than that they’ve got great lunch specials and killer marinara.

In a vain attempt at regaining credibility — admitting that I haven’t seen The Social Network makes such a task more or less insurmountable — I’ll assure you that I can speak somewhat intelligibly about the beginnings of the French New Wave and Claude Chabrol’s La Beau Serge, but that’s only because I saw it for the first time two weeks ago in a film class. The week before that, I discovered Singin’ in the Rain and last Thursday I watched my first Alfred Hitchcock film (Rope).

The gaps in my knowledge of film might be many, but within them lies some degree of excitement — watching things for the first time is always special, particularly if it’s one of those (many) movies I should have seen by now. While everyone else gets to grin slightly at the familiar, decades-old dance numbers of Gene Kelly, I get to watch them with a wide, dumb smile. Similarly, there’s nothing like discovering and delighting in the macabre of Hitchcock, or the perennial freshness of the French New Wave. It’s like that scene from Wonder Woman, when Diana tries ice cream for the first time and tells the vendor that he should be proud of himself (Gene, Alfred, Claude, you all can take a bow).

I bet you wish you could remember the exact moments leading up to that first spoonful of ice cream, the unique joy during it and the “You should be proud of yourself!” after. I bet you wish you could recall the initiating thrills of Star Wars; what it was like to fall for a jump scare in Jaws — I certainly wish I did. Therein lies the upside to the admittedly wide gaps in my film knowledge. I get to preserve the memory of a first viewing more fully, to etch in my mind, in vivid detail, what it was like to fill those gaps.

Of course, not every movie goes down like a gob of Cherry Garcia, but even then, simply leaving the theater is an occasion to remember. The overwhelming relief that flooded me at the end of Transformers: The Last Knight (it was a press screening, so don’t get mad at me for paying for a ticket) is something I won’t want to forget anytime soon, especially since I suffered through its relentless quest of disorientation with one of my best friends from high school — fitting, since our years of secondary education and that franchise can be described with more or less the same words. Most recently, I’ll never forget the mad dash a friend and I made for a consolatory cup of ice cream after mother!, the way we both knew what we wanted as soon as we left the theater, and how I stumbled over my words as I ordered.

I’ve begun ranking movies as I see them, and recording where I saw them. If applicable, I write down the people I saw them with. Movies are an essential part of my life, and I want to remember, if not capture, the feeling of watching them for the first time. I have a lot to catch up on, but that’s not something to be ashamed of since there’s so much joy to be had in filling those gaps. It’s a task whose enormity does not preclude its own infinite capacity to delight, horrify or inspire.

‘When Harry Met Movies’ is a weekly column from Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic Harrison Tunggal about movies that shape us and why we love them.

 

Featured image via MGM.

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