Searching, In Review

searching

Okay, Searching honestly blew my mind. It probably won’t win any awards because it’s not pretty enough and there aren’t enough philosophical dialogue scenes, but this movie is innovative in both form and content. When I first saw the commercial for it in the theater this summer, I thought, “Wow, that movie is going to be stupid and awful.” I thought it’d try too hard to artificially stay constrained to the computer screen, or at least it’d get preachy about some statement about our addiction to technology, or at the very least there’d be too much reading text and not enough action.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. First and foremost, Searching is an on-the-edge-of-your-seat white-knuckled thriller. Several times during the movie I heard the girl next to me say, “No way, no way no way, holy cow, no way.” At one point she even declared angrily, “She’s not dead!” Searching is a wonderful movie that blends its story into its form—all the action confined to computer screens—so well that by the end of it I couldn’t separate the two in my head.

Searching convinced me that the movie couldn’t tell its story any other way than through computer screens. It never felt arbitrary or like a gimmick. In fact, by the end, the computer and technological aspects of the film felt as human and illuminating to the humanity of the characters as the form of any typically-shot short film.

The plot of the movie follows the very human (and potentially overdone—I’m thinking of Taken and the eight thousand Taken sequels and spin-offs) story of a father trying to find out what happened to his missing daughter. The innovative thing about the movie is that such a hackneyed story is made fresh by the fact that all the action, backstory, dialogue, everything, is revealed in a natural way through the computer screens. We jump from the original old Windows-running family computer to the father’s newer computer to the daughter’s computer. Through design choices and search history and the way each character interacts with technology (though almost everything we see is controlled by the father) we find out everyone’s personality. We find out with a few clicks of the mouse all about the family dynamics of this particular family. We live in the moment as the father discovers clues to his daughter’s disappearance. The suspense is powerful in this film, and the immediacy and emotional involvement—at least for me—was so great that it felt physically draining.

There have been movies before that tried to do new stuff with digital technology and screens, and it makes sense that our narratives draw towards those themes and forms considering how much of our lives we now spend in front of a computer (or at least in front of a screen). But I think Searching did a better job than any of them at framing its story on a real-world-grounded scenario and the very human (however hackneyed) struggle of a dad trying to protect his daughter.

And Searching also does a good job of having depth and deep messages without being over-the-top preachy. It never turns into a doomsday prophet, warning about the evils of too much screentime. Yet by the end, the message is clear—spend more actual time with the person and people you love. Because although sometimes it feels like you can find out everything about a person through the internet, no amount of Google searches will let you truly get to know a person.

Please, please go watch this movie. It’s fascinating and innovative, and I don’t know how well it’s going to age—but in its immediate context, it’s extremely powerful.

Happy screening! (But, according to the message of this movie, not too much.)

—CFH

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Crazy Rich Asians: Not Just About Representation

crazy rich asians

Crazy Rich Asians, a rom-com featuring a predominately (pretty much completely) Asian cast, has been hyped for its representation of a historically underrepresented group. It has brought up discussions about the importance of representation—the same discussions that spread around Black Panther, Call Me By Your Name, Wonder Woman, and pretty much any movie that happens to tell the stories of marginalized groups of people or characters as complex and interesting human beings. I read so many articles and tweets about the importance of Crazy Rich Asians. How it’s breaking box office records and proving that diversity should matter to Hollywood executives because it matters to viewers. And I saw personal stories—people crying at the emotional power of seeing people like themselves—with their culture—represented up on the big screen in a studio movie.

But after seeing Crazy Rich Asians, I realized that it isn’t just about representation, and these articles lauding the greatness of seeing an all-Asian cast are missing the point of such a cast’s potential significance.

Don’t get me wrong—diversity, inclusiveness, and representation are all incredibly important. But what I find disturbing about some of the hype surrounding Crazy Rich Asians is the fetishizing of a group of people, blurring the boundary between exploitation and “representation,” and reinforcing the age-old problem of Hollywood studio movies putting high-class individuals and their lifestyle up on a pedestal. Instead of lauding the filmmakers for bringing new life and energy to the romantic comedy genre, people focus on the all-Asian cast—important, for sure, but unfortunately made into a cheap marketing gimmick rather than fully being mined for significance, both culturally and artistically.

Crazy Rich Asians is a well-made movie, a new direction for an evolving film genre, a movie that incorporates modern technology in new and innovative ways, and a story that has a lot to say about culture, families, and love in the 21st century. The fact is—if Hollywood is going to move forward as an industry and we are going to move forward as movie consumers, the issue of representation and inclusiveness in Crazy Rich Asians should be the most temporary issue the film raises. It’s important now, but instead of patting ourselves on the back for progressiveness, we should be shaping the narrative around Crazy Rich Asians so the film doesn’t fall by the wayside in the larger picture of history. Let’s not lock the film away in a box labeled “first huge box-office hit with all-Asian cast” the way we wrote off films like King Vidor’s Hallelujah (1929) as “one of the first films with an all-black cast by a major studio,” without celebrating the significance these films bring to filmmaking and the history of cinema as a whole.

It’s about representation. But it’s also about more than representation. It’s about films telling stories that have been under-appreciated and telling these stories in new and exciting ways.

Crazy Rich Asians is, of course, about Asian, specifically Chinese and Chinese-American, culture. But more broadly it’s about two people trying to navigate the modern 21st century media-saturated society. They have to deal with globalization. They have to deal with coming from different traditions, backgrounds, cultures, and nations. They have to deal with class differences. And they have to deal with all of that in an era in which information is easily attainable and privacy is hard to come by. This movie would not be possible in any other time—which is a good thing. It’s representative of what it means to be a young couple trying to conform to tradition and celebrate personal and cultural identity while at the same time facing a very public, commercial, and chaotic world.

I found the main character Rachel’s struggle fascinating and relatable—the question of whether to follow passion and pursue personal happiness or to sacrifice for love, tradition, and family. I think that’s a struggle that many young people face today, no matter what background they come from.

I also found the way the film handles our media saturated culture fascinating—for instance, in the sequence when texts, tweets, pictures, and rumors start spreading about Rachel and her rich and famous boyfriend. Design-wise, the online content is shown onscreen in a way that’s entertaining and very real for our world today.

Crazy Rich Asians is a movie I hope will continue being discussed and celebrated long after it has left theaters, long after the immediate impact of its significant “representation” has lost its sting. It’s a great romantic comedy with plenty of depth to warrant study and more study. Or, if you just want humor or entertainment, then it’s good for that too. Definitely see this movie, even if you have to wait for it to stream or come out on Blu-Ray and DVD. It’s definitely worth your time and money, emotions and thought.

Happy screening!

—CFH

History and Truth through the Lens of The Hypocrites (1915)

The saying goes, “History is written by the victors.” If only that were true. Real life isn’t a game, or, if it is, it isn’t one where the rules are easily articulated and the winners are easy to tell from the losers. For instance, in the 1910s, director-producer-screenwriter Lois Weber made over 100 films, many of which were giant box office hits, making her one of the most successful creators in young Hollywood and the worldwide filmmaking sphere. She was a superstar. And, more than that, she was a visionary. Famous in her time, innovative and with plenty to say, a woman who succeeded in her career before women even got the right to vote in the US—in all regards, a genius, someone who should be a “victor,” or at the very least someone worthy of inclusion in history.

And yet, despite going through several film history classes and reading several film history books, it’s just now that I’m even coming across her name.

Recently, I watched her 1915 film The Hypocrites. For a little context on this film—film had been a thing for barely twenty years when this film was made. It was released in January of 1915, months before the “groundbreaking” Birth of a Nation and a year or so before Intolerance was released. The plot begins with an abbot giving a sermon to a distracted congregation about hypocrisy. After the sermon—and an example of hypocrisy, in which an upper class man in the congregation congratulates the abbot for a good sermon but then outside the church tells his friends the abbot should be fired—the abbot falls asleep inside the church. Most of the rest of the film follows a surreal and allegorical dream sequence that jumps through history and shows that throughout time most every human being (including abbots and monks) couldn’t bear to see “the nakedness of Truth.”

It’s a film with religious themes, yet it doesn’t preach or place religion or the religious on a pedestal. It’s a film about ideas, and yet there are wonderful action sequences, such as when a mob riots violently because the true from of Truth has been exposed. It’s a film that at its heart is moral, and yet when released it faced backlash for being immoral—since Truth as an allegorical character is depicted as a naked woman.

In other words, it’s a complicated gem of a film—one that uses some of the same techniques that film history books claim D. W. Griffith created or was the first to bring to maturity, the first to develop “film’s language.”

What I was thinking about when watching The Hypocrites (other than musing on its deep messages and themes) was how it uses special effects in a revolutionary way. Truth the character is this ghostly spirit that hovers in and out of the picture, disappearing and reappearing through double exposure. Georges Méliès had done this technique, had practically invented it, but had mainly used it for shock and awe. Special effects were there to show off the spectacle that could be presented on film. But in The Hypocrites, special effects are used in a way that illuminates the story and its messages. Supernatural events are treated in a more realistic and natural manner. They aren’t showing off the spectacle of film as a medium, but instead building the world that this particular film creates—a world that is meant to mirror our own.

How Weber treats special effects will be used later—all the way to our current times. Movies like those Universal horror flicks, Blade Runner, Jaws, Alien, our superhero movies, our Star Wars movies—those films wouldn’t be possible if pioneers like Weber hadn’t had the vision to use special effects in a serious way, using them in serious, heavy films with real-world, complex themes and messages.

I don’t know what happened with history or Hollywood. I don’t know why by the mid-1920s Weber’s production company had failed and she had fallen (or been kicked) from power and was no longer considered a successful filmmaker. I do know that we’re lucky The Hypocrites survived whatever strange revisionist history was going on, erasing the female touch from the history of American filmmaking and Hollywood. The Hypocrites is a classic, with as much to say about society and human beings in 2018 as it had to say in 1915.

In fact, considering its historical context, it may even have more to say now than it did originally, if folks are willing to face the Truth.

Explore more:
Lois Weber Profile by the Women Film Pioneers Project
The Hypocrites (1915) on YouTube

—CFH

In the Belly of The Meg

the meg

Do you like pointless and irrational action movies? Do you like CGI City, explosions and giant monsters galore? Do you like hilariously macho main characters?

Do you like movies that don’t take themselves too seriously, keep you on the edge of your seat, and operate under the rule that only the bad and sorta bad guys can get eaten by massive dinosaur sharks?

Then The Meg is the movie for you. Starring Jason Statham, this is a forgettable but fun action movie that’s a cross between Jurassic Park and Jaws, except less gory. The best thing about it is that it doesn’t let romance or internal complexities or subplots of any kind distract from what it knows we’re there to see—a giant shark attacking people. The movie does nothing new with narrative or characters or filmmaking techniques—but this movie definitely has its moments of nail-biting nerves. I.e., the scenes with the little dog Pippin.

What I found hilariously awesome about The Meg, promos included, is how unabashedly obvious it is. I mean, the hero character in this movie about a giant prehistoric shark, the megalodon, is named “Jonas,” one step removed from “Jonah.” It doesn’t take an English major, film theorist, or biblical scholar to unravel that symbolism. But at the same time, there’s a lot to admire about that simplicity. Movies usually mirror their main character(s), and The Meg is no exception. Jonas is the macho hero. He’s only clever enough to get through action sequences in believable yet imaginative ways, and he’s only complex enough to get the girl in the end. The Meg is only clever and complex enough to be an entertaining movie—to make you, in the moment, emotionally involved with the characters and action.

The film, though, has its drawbacks. We get plenty of suspense and discussions and even attacks with The Meg, but yet by the end I felt like we hadn’t seen enough of it. In Jaws, a level of atmosphere surrounded the shark. Even when you didn’t see it, you felt its presence, and you remembered that feeling long after the movie ended. The shark in Jaws is its own developed character, one of the best villains in cinema history. I got no such vibe from the Meg. It didn’t feel like an animal or a beast or something real or in any way human-like, and so in a way it let me feeling hollow. I couldn’t connect to it. I enjoyed the action of the movie, and I felt satisfied by the narrative arc, but it would have made a bigger… splash emotionally for me if the Meg itself, as a character, had been developed more fully.

But really, guys, the dude’s name is Jonas. In such a surface-level movie, metaphorically speaking, I found this small touch of biblical symbolism fascinating.

The book of Jonah is one of the oldest short stories on the planet, and is still chocked full of meaning despite its millennia of being beaten like a dead horse by scholars and clergymen alike. Most people have heard the basic plot at some point, maybe from a religious family member, or a preacher, or through reading, or from TV (from Veggietales, if you’re really cultured), or from one drowsy morning at Sunday school. It involves the prophet Jonah who disobeys God’s command to warn this evil city that they’re evil, and because of his disobedience Jonah gets swallowed up by a huge fish. I reread the story after seeing The Meg, hoping to glean a bit more substance from the movie. Like biblical Jonah, The Meg Jonas tries to run off and hide from his calling—which for The Meg Jonas is apparently… being some badass deep sea rescuer guy? And there’s a big fish. Comparisons and symbolism between the biblical story and The Meg sort of end there.

Or do they? If you really stretch it—please suspend disbelief and take the leap with me for a moment—both stories at their core are about redemption. They’re about a guy named Jonah or Jonas who is haunted by the people he’s left behind, the people he hasn’t rescued. He’s somebody trying to accept that “sometimes it’s not about who you lose—it’s who you save that counts” (to sum up a repeated idea from the film). A tough lesson to learn for anyone—the lesson of mercy and forgiveness. Nearly as tough to learn as killing a giant prehistoric man-eating CGI shark.

I’m of course reading way too much into this movie. To see just how much I’ve tried to find depth in a movie that’s meant to be an entertaining summer action flick and not much more, go watch The Meg for yourself, especially if you like explosions, giant monsters, macho guys named Jonas, or just being entertained.

Happy screening!

—CFH

Mama Mia! Here We Go Again, In Review

mama mia

On Twitter, I follow the poet Maggie Smith, who last week was posting about how hard it was to write about motherhood when so often anything regarding motherhood or babies is dismissed as “sentimental.” I found it an interesting coincidence that during the same week I read a review in the New York Times about how stupid Mama Mia! Here We Go Again is, how it fails because there’s not enough of one of the original movie’s stars in it, how Cher is washed up, etc., etc. You can read this review for yourself here: ‘Mama Mia! Here We Go Again’ Takes a Detour and Loses Its Kick

I’m going to be honest—I myself for a long time didn’t get the whole Mama Mia craze. I watched the first one when I was younger and it did seem overly sentimental. It seemed ridiculous, escapist, falsely lighthearted, and extraordinarily delusional-hippie. For my movie musicals, I preferred darkness, death, and tragedy. I’m talking Phantom of the Opera, Moulin Rouge, Chicago. I preferred those because I thought that darkness, death, and tragedy were the only ways to depth and meaning. So although I tolerated the sunshine-drenched Mama Mia, it wasn’t at the top of my favorites list. In fact, I doubt it would have made the list at all.

But then, my little sister saw it, and she instantly fell in love with it. Here was a movie full of light and love and above all life. After watching the original film and the brand new one with my sister, I see the Mama Mia franchise in a different way.

Mama Mia! Here We Go Again is a film of hope. It admits that women have desires and depth and, just like men, sometimes make mistakes, do dumb things, and yet those mistakes can work out for the best. It is a hippie movie—sentimental, escapist, corny and at times delusional. But don’t dismiss it as poor quality or frivolous. It’s extremely meaningful—it means that young women can dare to have adventures, make mistakes in their lives and not know exactly where they’re headed or what they’re doing and still end up having an important life full of purpose. It means that older people—including older women—still can desire and find love. It means that not all men have to be macho, serious, and unsentimental to be valued.

It means that good people and love and family and hope all still exist, and that’s a powerful message—more powerful, even, than darkness, death, and tragedy.

I read another article in Little White Lies (read it here) about how Mama Mia! Here We Go Again is the Godfather 2 of musicals. Structurally, it does resemble the gangster classic. It’s even about extended family and the importance of family. Just like the original Godfather Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) was killed off and replaced in the sequel by extended flashbacks involving a younger version of the character, played by a rising star actor (Robert De Niro), in Mama Mia 2 for most of the film Meryl Streep is replaced by Lily James, a talented rising star who’s been in Darkest Hour and Baby Driver. I sympathize with fans and moviegoers who didn’t like this choice—extended flashbacks are usually painfully boring, and having (I thought) a Mama Mia movie without Meryl Streep would be like having an Iron Man movie without Robert Downey Jr or a Mission Impossible movie without Tom Cruise. But like I was wrong in my initial reaction to the first Mama Mia, I think I was wrong about my initial assumptions about the narrative choices of Mama Mia! Here We Go Again.

Me and my sister pre-ordered tickets, went to the theater early to get good seats, dropped way too much money on overpriced popcorn and drinks, and sat next to a chatty older woman who sang along to all the songs—and we ended up having the time of our lives. Mama Mia! Here We Go Again is fun, funny, and filled with sunshine despite the grief and heartache at the core of the story. Like the title song, it’s a story about rising above and overcoming. It’s a movie about love, family, motherhood, and most of all hope.

And it’s filled with meaning.

Go watch it, and feel free to sing along.

—CFH

Justice League vs. Ant-Man and the Wasp

I know I’m a little late to the game, but a few days ago I watched the 2017 Justice League movie. Throughout its achingly long two hours, I found myself less wrapped up in the convoluted plot and more wrapped up in my own speculations about how and why this movie doesn’t work. What went wrong? It has so many of the same elements of the popular Avengers movies. Even the characters are nearly the same—Batman is smart, rich Ironman, Aquaman is tough-guy god Thor, Flash is the relatable kid Spiderman—plus Justice League has what Avengers doesn’t, kick-butt Wonder Woman.

But for some reason in Justice League the mix fell flat. The jokes weren’t funny. The one-liners were stiff. We spent way too much time with Wonder Woman upskirt shots. The action sequences felt disjointed with the graphics of an early 2000s video game. I found myself unable to connect on a human level to the characters and unable to connect on an emotional level with the story.

My inability to connect surprised me. I grew up a huge DC nerd. I loved the comics. I collected the action figures. I watched and re-watched Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and even Superman Returns.

What went wrong?

I guess I blame Marvel. The entire time I was watching Justice League I couldn’t help but keep comparing its structure to the Avengers. That’s what my biggest problem with the movie is—it is constantly looking in the rearview mirror, constantly bowing down to Marvel’s successful formulas instead of embracing its own DC identity. Justice League does nothing to add to the superhero genre. It follows the tropes without subverting them. Its writing feels rushed, inorganic, and hyper-masculine. Cynical me couldn’t help but wonder whether Warner Bros had been too hasty with the film—rabidly smelling the billions of dollars Marvel movies were raking in instead of quietly worrying about quality, slowly kneading the movie into its own distinct and well-crafted shape.

It pains me to say it—because I believe that every movie has value, that every movie is important to the many people who contributed to it, that every movie can teach the viewer something about him/herself and the world—but Justice League isn’t worth your time or money. It’s a rough draft of a movie—a movie that could have been great but is underdeveloped and flat.

Probably unfairly to Justice League, the day before I watched it I went to the theater and saw Marvel’s new offering, Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Now here is a film that in no way should work. All during it I wondered—what went right? “Ant-Man” is a ridiculous name for a superhero. The ability to control ants, and the giant ants themselves, seems straight out of those awful fifties sci-fi films. The jokes are corny. The premise is unwieldy and filled with tropes, sentimentality, and nostalgia. Not to mention that the film is yet another sequel in a long string of Marvel sequels. Is there ever a time when there isn’t a Marvel movie playing at your local cinema? But despite all that, Ant-Man and the Wasp is charming, entertaining, and, most importantly, sincerely human.

Marvel’s movies do a good job with framing their narratives in realistic and relatable ways. In Ant-Man and the Wasp, the story isn’t about saving the universe—it’s about a dad trying to make his daughter proud, a daughter searching for her long-lost mother and a father searching for his long-lost wife. Even the villain, Ghost,  has human motivations. She wants power. She wants destruction. But she wants it because she’s in pain, because she’s afraid, because she has her own very specific trauma and backstory. In contrast, Justice League deals with lofty ideas—the vague search for control over “power”, little to no mention of family except as a part of sped-through, formulaic exposition. The characters in Justice League felt like superheroes dealing with huge, universe-level problems while the characters in Marvel movies feel like humans dealing with huge, universe-level problems. In Justice League, the characters’ superhero status would have worked fine if the film hadn’t tried to force them to be relatable at the same time.

In summary, let’s never again speak of the 2017 film Justice League, and go watch Ant-Man and the Wasp even though its a Hollywood sequel that on the surface sounds corny.

—CFH

Nostalgia in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

jurassic world

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a cautionary tale about going too far with science, respecting nature, and “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” In other words, its message is exactly like the previous four films in the Jurassic franchise.

The script felt rushed—with stiff dialogue and underdeveloped, though intriguing, characters (such as the little girl Maisie). The movie is textbook Hollywood blockbuster entertainment—with plenty of action and suspense, one after another edge-of-your-seat moments. And like so many of our stories—books, movies, etc.— in our current age, the film is sentimental, dreamy with nostalgia. Of course, the entire Jurassic concept is based on nostalgia, bringing back giant beasts that we know next to nothing about except that they once existed, that they once ruled our world, that they were once like us. Many people, critics and even some everyday moviegoers and fans of the franchise, have complained about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom being too formulaic, too by-the-book. The plot is the same old story with the same old message as all the other Jurassic movies.

But isn’t that the point? The Jurassic World movies, like the dinosaurs they depict, are nothing but new interpretations of the original—nothing but living zombies reincarnated in the image of this age’s strange fascination with the past and all things nostalgic.

Too bad that for some Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was more like the monstrous “Indo-raptor”—a beast pieced-together with bits of the past for financial gain—rather than a classic T-Rex or even a Brachiosaurus—fascinating beings meant to be studied and appreciated.

Movies rely on nostalgia. Why else would we still have glass-encased box offices if the entire moviegoing experience wasn’t based on ritual and tradition? It’s an American moviegoing ritual, part of the experience. Buy the ticket at the box, take it to the podium where an usher tears it and tells you where to go, eat popcorn and watch the projected movie in a darkened theater. Cinemas still work much like they did in the thirties. Every time I go watch a movie, I’m reminded of Buffalo Creek Movie Theater, where I first started watching movies as a kid in the late 90s. The ritual conjures the past. Part of the magic of movies is that they harken back to other times, times that we like to pretend were simpler, times we like to believe were calmer.

It’s not a bad thing that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom falls prey to its nostalgia. It’s meant to be nostalgic. It’s meant to be sentimental. That’s the point of these continued sequels in this franchise. But I do wish that it had made itself a little less disposable. Like Solo in the Star Wars franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is entertaining, but not a must-see.

 

The Power of Particular Stories

For the past few weeks, my adventures as a box office cashier at the local movie theater have continued—the last couple of weeks complicated by the awe-inspiring turnout for Incredibles 2. We don’t sell-out showings very often—the last showing that sold out at our theater was one of Black Panther on its opening night. But on the first day of Incredibles 2, we sold out of nearly every showing from one in the afternoon until 10:20 at night.

The hoopla surrounding Incredibles further proves how much movies—and good stories in general—matter deeply to people.

The first week it came out, I didn’t get the chance to see Incredibles 2, but I did get my fill of watching and rewatching some great new and classic movies. With my dad and sister I re-watched the twisted love story of Phantom Thread. As part of my TCM Musical online class I saw the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers classic Top Hat—a movie that stands the test of time and is still as captivating and hilarious as it was in 1935 when it came out. (I especially enjoyed the musical number “Isn’t This a Lovely Day (To Be Caught In the Rain).”) And at the movie theater I saw Ocean’s 8—twice—and the new crime thriller Hotel Artemis.

Ocean’s 8 is everything I had hoped for when I first heard there would be an Oceans spin-off with all-female leads. Cate Blanchett is, as usual, enchanting in her roles as Lou, Sandra Bullock is strong in the tough spot of following up the naturally charismatic George Clooney as the heist’s mastermind and film’s central character, and the rest of the cast has great balance and chemistry despite being chocked full of star power.

And if you like action/crime movies that aren’t as much of a thinker as the Oceans movies, then you’ll love Hotel Artemis—which in my opinion is underrated, with the bad fortune of being released right when all these hyped blockbuster sequels (Ocean’s 8, Jurassic World, Incredibles 2) are coming out. Hotel Artemis isn’t going to be a classic—there are too many action and sci-fi movie tropes and not enough character development, but Jodie Foster gives a strong performance as the quirky and haunted Nurse and Jeff Goldblum plays a wonderful Jeff Goldblum as “the Wolf King,” a criminal underworld kingpin. The American-ness, though great at conveying the interesting sci-fi noir genre, might get on your nerves at times—such as when the bad-ass macho man main character played by Sterling K. Brown uses a 3D printer to both print a gun and stab someone. And the story feels rushed—a common problem in action flicks, especially when there’s world-building sci-fi elements to juggle—and a good 80% of the dialogue is standard tough-guy lingo. But Jodie Foster’s performance and character is a high point in the film, and if you like action this movie’s definitely worth your time and money (if you can find a theater where it’s still playing).

To conclude this sort of rambling summary of a blog post, I want to go back to something I touched on in my post about Black Panther. One thing multiple of my fellow box office cashiers have commented on is that you can often guess what movie a certain person is going to see before they even ask for the tickets. A family walking up with a bunch of excited kids is probably going to see the Incredibles 2. Seniors are probably seeing Book Club. Women want to see Ocean’s 8.

Of course there’s a ton of crossover—bunch a startling amount of time you really can guess which people are there for which movie. What this means is that these movies tell stories with characters that represent them. People who haven’t seen a movie at the theater in years—sometimes decades—come to see Book Club because it is a movie about them. Spanish-speaking people came by the dozens to watch Overboard. Women have been excited about Ocean’s 8. And families flock to Incredibles 2—a story about trying to make it work as a family.

The great thing about stories is how you can step into somebody else’s world and life for awhile. But it’s also important to see yourself mirrored up there on the glowing bright big-screen.

That’s all I have to say today. Now back to work handing out movie tickets. I hope you get a chance to see some of these movies, if only to get out of the summer heat!

Happy screening!

—CFH

Upgrade and Heartbreak

upgrade

Yesterday I saw the new near-future sci-fi movie Upgrade—about a digital implant that starts taking over people’s bodies and minds.

This post is not a review of the movie, which I found needlessly violent but good as far as thought-provoking, statement-making sci-fi goes. If you like sci-fi or action movies, you will like Upgrade. It will make you think—it made me think. It made me think deeply about society and technology and even sanity. In fact, it made me write this post, which is not a movie review but instead is more a jaunt through some random musings on my issues and hopes and how I survive and relate to the world.

I saw Upgrade after the passing of Kate Spade and before the passing of Anthony Bourdain. These creators and celebrities weren’t especially important to me—I had only heard their names mentioned or referenced. I wasn’t a dedicated fan of either of them. I didn’t wear Kate Spade designed clothing or watch Parts Unknown. Yet their deaths left me heartbroken, saddened and shocked. It was that quiet shock, the kind of shock when you are reminded that this world is dark and tough and temporary, that people deal with things behind closed doors that are difficult and out-of-control, that no matter your dedication to life or beauty sometimes the world is too much to handle alone.

Upgrade is about a technological device implanted inside people that controls their bodies and minds. The movie gives you a clear moral-of-the-story by the end—the clear sci-fi trope message that technology can advance too much and destroy humanity. In light of recent events, though, and in light of the many (and many times unspeakable) ways mental illness has touched my life and the lives of those around me, I couldn’t help but think of the implants as mental illness—bipolar disorder, PTSD, anxiety and depression—and neurological disabilities such as autism and all the psychological strain that comes with them.

Something in your head, controlling you, taking over, letting you do things that range from amazing and/or funny to disturbing and/or dangerous.

I wish there was a hashtag for mental illness struggles the way there was one for sexual assault and harassment so that it would be obvious how widespread an issue this is. These past few days I’ve been amazed by how many people have said that they also have struggled with mental illness, or they have loved ones that have struggled with it. It’s a much bigger issue than we as a society would like to face—probably because it’s so hard to face on a personal level.

“Am I crazy?” Grey, the main character in Upgrade, asks when his implant begins speaking to him. The film is a cautionary tale about people relying too much on technology and technology advancing so much that it takes over our bodies, minds, and eventually our world. The movie is also about evilness—how it spreads, infecting people until their beliefs and intentions become misguided.

But I think a film can always be viewed—and should be viewed—from a personal and contextual level as well. Through this lens, to me, Upgrade is about mental illness. It’s about a society that can create self-driving cars and AI refrigerators but leaves psychological problems to be dealt with behind closed doors, alone. It’s about a society that values efficiency and perfection when humans are anything but efficient and perfect. We’re lost and broken—or at least I am. And until we learn to embrace that, we’re on a dark and dangerous path.

If you’re looking for a feel-good movie, don’t watch Upgrade. It doesn’t leave you with any warm and fuzzy feelings or much hope for the world, and it’s main statement is one of pessimism rather than promise. But anyway, the hope always comes in the silence after a statement, when people start thinking, wondering, and changing on their own. Go watch Upgrade if you want to think not only about our possible future but also our very real present.

My mental illness has often felt like an implant in my brain, causing me to do and even think things that seem strange and at times frightening. But my mental illness is also part of me. It colors my life and shapes my future. It shaped how I experienced the film Upgrade, and I hope that it reminds me to preserve the wandering brokenness of my soul—the wandering brokenness that creates beauty in my life and this world.

—CFH

Book Club in Review

book clubWhen you get free tickets to see a movie, sometimes you take chances and see something you never would have thought you’d like. Because of my work, I ended up with a free ticket to watch the movie Book Club, starring Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen as four longtime friends who decide to read Fifty Shades of Grey for their book club. As you probably can imagine, plenty of ridiculousness and corniness follows as these older women begin reflecting on their lives and love lives—I although the material is pretty lowest-common-denominator, this movie manages to still be thought-provoking and entertaining. Mostly because of the extraordinary talent of Diane Keaton and her co-stars and a screenplay with great knowledge of its target audience, Book Club is one of those movies that’s just fun to watch.

I had assumed Book Club was an “old person movie” and had left it at that. But really the film is genius in how well it knows its audience—and because it isn’t trying for much more than entertainment (though it has plenty to say about aging, romance, sexism, families, and being a individual trying to navigate this increasingly digital world), it ends up working even if you don’t necessarily get every reference and even if you’ve seen and heard the corny romances and dirty jokes before.

And, boy, can Diane Keaton act. For me personally, she was my favorite part of this film. The way she moves and expresses herself is just so naturally funny—the talent she displayed in Annie Hall and Manhattan still shines in Book Club. Her charisma holds together the narrative, giving us a clear main character to focus on even though we get caught up in the plots of all four book club members.

What impressed me most about the film was what it said through the gaffs and rosy plotlines. This movie makes some serious statements about how society treats the elderly and women. After the Diane Keaton character’s husband passes away, her daughters pretty much treat her as an invalid, as someone frail and used up with no more life to live. The daughters instantly assume (like I assumed that this film wasn’t for me) that a woman can’t take care of herself after a certain age and without a stable man. While watching the film I worried about the future of the daughters, so dependent on each other, their husbands, and their mother, but more so—and more dangerously—dependent on traditional ideologies that didn’t grant them any agency in society, especially the older they get.

Book Club is chocked full of wisdom and humor. It’s a surprising hit, a feel-good movie that’s perfect for one lazy summer day. If you watch it for no other reason, watch it for the comic acting genius of Diane Keaton. Watch it to think about aging, identity, and how to find personal agency while still finding love and companionship.

Although I managed to see it for free (except of course I caved and bought popcorn), Book Club is well worth the money.

—CFH