Apparently, the Critics Choice Awards are tonight. I have no idea why they would move them this early in the year. Did they want fewer people to show up/be aware of it? Or was the airline hangar (no joke) where it’s held get books for some other event in early January?
Whatever, it gives me something to do tonight without leaving my house. (It’s finally actually feeling like winter in NYC.) And I have managed to catch up with a lot of their nominees. Here are the ones I saw in the past couple of weeks:
The Edge of Seventeen
I’m finding it hard to write about The Edge of Seventeen, I had an incredibly emotional and intensely personal reaction to it that 1: I’m not sure I can completely articulate and 2: would require me to share a lot of details of my life that I’m not comfortable publishing on the internet. (Plus, this blog isn’t therapy.)
So leaving aside uncomfortable questions about how completely I identified with an unlikable 16 year old girl, I’ll try to focus on the film. Which is fantastic. It’s being marketed as a “teen comedy,” and I did laugh out loud a couple of times (usually at Erwin [Hayden Szeto]’s stumbling, charming shyness or Woody Harrelson‘s bored teacher’s one liners), but I also cried (and not just because of aforementioned personal issues).
This is the realest look at what it is like to be a 16 year old girl that I have ever seen. The fact that its written and directed by a woman (Kelly Fremon Craig) probably has a lot to do with that. The central character, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) isn’t a cool girl archetype, or an ugly duckling, or a misunderstood nerd. She’s a person who is often difficult and hard to empathize with at times, but also witty and trying so hard to deal with the circumstances she finds herself in, even those she created for herself. (You see that – she creates her own problems – she has agency! Like a real girl!)
The movie sticks closely to Nadine’s POV, but all the characters, even those one doesn’t like, all feel like real people too. Like you could imagine a movie surrounding them would be equally compelling. Basically what I’m saying is I didn’t want this movie to be over and I would like an Edge of Seventeen expanded universe so I could spend more time with these people.
I almost didn’t go to this. I give myself 3 outs each year and the prevailing tone in every review of this was, “Holy Shit that was violent.” But I love Andrew Garfield and Braveheart is still one of my favorite movies. So, I gave it a shot. And…
Holy Shit that was violent.
But that’s reductive, a lot of this movie is actually a fairly straight forward, well shot, watchable biopic about Desmond Doss, a real Seventh Day Adventist pacifist who refused to touch a gun, but served as an army medic in WWII and single handed saved 75 men in one battle. Sounds like a compelling story right?
But Mel Gibson couldn’t just tell it. He had to let his own pet obsessions with violence and blood take over for long stretches we lose sight of Doss to watch countless bodies be ripped apart, melted by flames, eaten by rats and worse. There’s an argument to be made that showing these images is the only way to get the true horror of war across on screen and if Gibson had stuck with Doss’s point of view and showed the audience only what he was reacting to then I would buy it. But the way he lingers and repeats the scenes of carnage betrays that he’s really only interested in Doss as a way to get to the battle. Which is a shame because Andrew Garfield is really good, and Doss seems like he was a uniquely thoughtful and faithful man.
So for this, and just generally, I’m disappointed in you Mel Gibson. Be better or go away.
It’s hard to chose a filmanthropy recipient for Gibson, as broadly awful as he he has been in the past, but as this film depicts domestic violence and Gibson (allegedly) beat the mother of at least one of his children, I’ve donated double what I paid to Safe Horizons which operates shelters and provides other services for women escaping intimate partner violence and their children.
Long time readers of this blog know that one of my slightly unhealthy obsessions is with the Kennedy family. I have sat through truly awful TV movies about various stages in the lives of JFK, Bobby, and the rest.
And I realized while watching this that although she is an icon (I mean I dressed as her for my 4th grade history costume day and kids knew who I was) most tales of the Kennedy saga aren’t very interested in Jackie’s perspective. At best she’s the “stand by your man” stoic spurned wife turned grieving widow and at worst she’s window dressing.
This is partly a product of the fact that she was an intensely private person, who none the less had a remarkable affinity for public relations and image creation. Which this film gives her full credit for. So much of the myth of the Kennedys that have been fascinated by my whole life was created and maintained by Jackie during JFK’s presidency her cultivation of the arts and her restoration of the White House (lots of great speeches about the importance of objects for the appreciation of history for the museum nerd in me) brought a sense of glamour to the capital. And after his death she understood that her husband’s legacy was at stake with every more. The funeral procession may have been, as Billy Crudup‘s reporter character puts it disapprovingly, “a spectacle,” but it cemented the image of JFK as a great man worthy of such pomp in the visual memory of this country.
OK, enough Kennedy-nerd rambling. This is also a good movie. Natalie Portman should and will get nominated (at least) nominated for everything. I appreciated director Pablo Larraín‘s choice to tell the story non-linearly through conversation and flashback, though I would have liked more with the priest (John Hurt) and less with the reporter. (Nothing against Crudup, he gives a fine performance, I guess I just prefer her private face to her public one.) The standout for me though was Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby (and not just because he’s my favorite Kennedy.) He managed to get the physicality perfectly without falling into caricature (thank God he didn’t go full Back Bay accent – it would have been so distracting.) He doesn’t steal focus from Jackie, but his grief and disappointment are as palpable as hers.
Also, and this is a little thing, but this is the best depiction I’ve ever seen of what a sniveling ass Jack Valenti was. (Or as my man put it, “I believe the term you’re looking for is political whore.”)
I get into spoiler talk in this review.
I don’t really believe in spoilers. Well, I mean, I believe that they exist, and I understand, especially for TV, why people try to avoid them. But I personally don’t really do anything to keep from hearing plot details before I consumer a story. I figure that if all something has going for it is a shocking twist than it probably isn’t very interesting as a piece of art.
I think this comes mostly from listening to a lot of film podcasts and being a creature of routine who doesn’t want to wait to watch a film and not listen to an episode when I normally would.
Long preamble, sorry! I explain all this to say that I went into Arrival already knowing the “twist” that the scenes of Amy Adams‘s daughter that read initially as flashbacks are actually her characters brain being rewired by the alien language to perceive the past and present and future as the same. (Or something like that. I have trouble conceptualizing how it would work, but I’m just a lowly human.)
This movie is definitely more than its twist, and Adams gives a seamless performance, but I’m still not sure if I liked it or not. Director Denis Villeneuve has crafted a complex world visually in addition to conceptually and the allegory of world politics, complete with dangerous radicalization of white men via You Tube conspiracy theorists is timely enough. But I can’t figure out exactly what this movie is trying to say: Globalism is dangerous but also the key to our survival? Don’t trust the CIA? China 7 Russia will always choose war? Choose life? Enjoy pain because its the price we pay for pleasure? Jeremy Renner looks good in glasses. (That one’s not a question.) Language is more important than science? Language is science?
I’m not saying I want every movie to spell out its message – God how dull that would be. But I can’t help but feel that beyond the conceit this movie is a bit of a muddle.