To my credit, I have been watching movies. It’s just that I haven’t been writing about them! I deserve a GoT shaming for this.
Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013): I had no particular interest in the world of music in general or backup singers in particular, but there was something so relatable about the idea of being ‘twenty feet from stardom’. Most people are about that distance from being ‘important’, being ‘fulfilled’, from being just ‘more’ of themselves. It’s particular to the arts that so many people dedicate themselves and, yet, only a speckle become famous. The case of backup singers is fascinating, because these (mostly) girls are exceptional talents, yet they find themselves in a career limbo that can quickly become the end of solo aspirations. There’s a lot to be gotten out of TFfS, so it gets a warm recommendation. 8/10
To All the Boys I’ve Loved (2018): This cheery little Netflix title is everything it could have ever been – which is no small feat. Starring a couple of likable leads, it offers a lot of familiar themes from the world of teenage rom-com movies, but still manages to make them feel fresh and honest. It doesn’t make a joke of itself, which is, again, something praiseworthy, while also defying certain gender-related expectations. Enough said. 7/10
When We First Met (2018): In stark contrast with it is this other Netflix rom-com, about a guy stuck in a borderline implausible ‘what could have been’ over Alexandra Daddario. Yes, we all contemplate that, but you have to make a real meal of it for something like this to stand out. WWFM doesn’t and feels like the opposite of All the Boys I’ve Loved, by creating contrived scenarios with one-note characters. It’s slight and easily digestible, but, c’mon, you have to try harder and invest a dime in your characters. Having a cool time-travel mechanic (which you then use for the most generic scenarios) isn’t enough. 4/10
Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018): There was a lot of buzz surrounding a couple of unexpected documentaries this summer – the one about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and this, starring Fred Rogers. It’s not only the unexpected characters leading them that embrethrens them, but also their approach to the wider theme of how we build society and foster particular ways of thinking. More on RBG next week, because Mr. Rogers deserves a LOT of attention. The documentary is, really, a great piece of filmmaking, which reconstructs a man and his singular vision of how television can be used to teach children about the complexities of life. It’s an intricate story with surprising emotional heft, stemming from director Morgan Neville’s ability to bring Rogers into your living room. It doesn’t matter if you agree with everything (and the movie does shy away from controversy), because the overall experience is such a wholesome, uplifting one, that it will, in the least, change your day. That’s not a simple feat from a movie about an awkward man playing around with puppets. 9/10
P.S. Can you believe I had no idea Morgan Neville also directed Twenty Feet From Stardom until writing this? Crazy, crazy world.
First Reformed (2018): It’s hard to make a relevant movie about spiritualism and radicalism without being totally political about it. Yet, Paul Schrader manages just that in a difficult movie, that ends up in totally unexpected places. Ethan Hawke plays Toller, a priest who is tormented by his own shortcomings. This leads to something else when he has to ‘consult’ with a young radical environmentalist, who just about ends up ‘infecting’ Toller with doubt and action. Torn between duty, carnality and desperation, Toller slowly winds himself up, while losing more and more control. A strong finale underpinned the forlorn feelings I was left with while the credits were rolling. It might be a tad slow, but it’s worth it. 8/10