When you’re in a straitjacket seat, can’t sleep, and the battery on your book device is fading, there is really not much to do but catch up on the contemporary cinema. (Spoilers ahead.)
Widows – Sad, tragic Ocean’s Four. Slow-paced, except for the scenes where it communicates complex information in a tearing haste.
Hidden Figures – You don’t get anything approaching fairness until unfairness starts costing the patriarchy money, or international standing – that’s the lesson from this story. Also, Sheldon is not your ally. The clothes and hair seem extra glam for a bunch of nerd girls, but Taraji P. Henson gets the parallax gaze of the myopic just right, and the film gets extra credit for accurate science details.
The Favourite – Allegory of unpaid internships and the future of work. Sparkling script. Olivia Coleman earned that Oscar.
A Star Is Born – The first part is exhilarating, and then just as you’re wondering how they are going to tell the real story of partnering an addict through his ups and downs and rehabs and relapses in less than four hours, the story ends. It must have been a trip for Lady Gaga to front a staunchly rockist movie that casts trendy pop as the devil. But then she has always had a traditional acoustic light to hide under her wigs and veils.
Crazy Rich Asians – One of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen, and that almost makes up for the crazy richness of the mama-pecked hero. Where a progressive ending would have him sitting down comfortably with the heroine and her mother in economy class, he seduces them back into his beautiful world – he buys people. But isn’t that what rich guys do? The slightly less rich, more entertaining Goh family need their own spinoff. An early montage of relay-race gossip using overlaid text popups shows the promise of a new filmmaking style, but the texting disappears after that one sequence.
Booksmart – Olivia Wilde’s directing debut is refreshing in its so-what approach to sexuality, but also not as radical as it thinks it is. The script does not question the importance of prestige university labels; rather, it makes them the plot hinge. The last-night party involves yachts and mansions and swimming pools and a fairy godmother with a car full of party clothes (she too needs a spinoff). These students, however diverse in some ways, are not styling themselves out of odds and ends., nor do they seem worried about their parents’ futures as well as their own. One of the few nods to the real socioeconomic system is the school principal driving a Lyft in the evenings (as some of my teachers worked at Sears and painted houses). This is a mainstream movie made by mainstream people, not Lady Bird II or Breakfast Club 2019.
Dealt – Card mechanic Richard Turner is a master of those impossible card tricks that produce exactly the right card at exactly the right time after it should certainly have disappeared in the mix. The big reveal: progressive macular disease has left him blind so he relies on his perfect shuffling and cutting technique to produce known permutations of the original factory order. The long middle section hammers on Turner’s refusal to call himself blind or use conventional aids such as Braille. He is facilitated in this by the family and friends who quietly walk him around. Meanwhile his sister, who has the same eye condition, uses a smartphone, a computer and a guide dog to enable her to run a business in construction and site design. When Turner’s son, who had taken over from his very sharp wife as chief walker, leaves for university, he lets his sister teach him how to be blind but independent. Although the progression from denial to acceptance makes a good story arc, I agree with the old Richard Turner that his card skills alone make him remarkable enough, and a deeper dive into those is a film I’d enjoy even more.
Première année (The Freshmen) – The Paper Chase is back, only with French premeds! Look to the right of you, look to the left of you, one of you … no, wait, four fifths of you will be gone at the end of this year. (How is this not a reality TV show? The filmmaker is a medical doctor, so the details are presumably reality based.) Our heroes are the Natural, a doctor’s son who isn’t sure he can stand the sight of blood, and the Try-Hard, a course repeater who studies with obsessive purpose. Over a semester of gut-freezing competition and stupid teacher tricks, this odd couple overcome their antipathy to become study buddies. The Natural is always arriving more or less on time to find that everybody else knew the starting line was actually half a mile back. And yet in the second term he starts to surpass the Try-Hard and their relationship deteriorates, as does the Try-Hard’s mental state. This story is a retelling of Three Idiots as Two Idiots, but not the two it seemed at first.