A 2021 Film Journey: Day 21

End of week three. If I’m being honest, this is probably twice as far as I thought I’d make it with this project. Every time before this that I tried to do any sort of regular movie writing I could make it about 10 days in before I’d miss one day, and it would all fall apart. I put a lot of the success on the more casual approach I’ve taken to writing for these posts. The casual approach is especially important on days like today when my anxiety and depression have been high and everything a challenge. Since I spent today in such a funk, I decided to put on a movie that numerous people have assured me I’d love.

Klute (1971, Dir. Alan J. Pakula)

Klute (1971) directed by Alan J. Pakula • Reviews, film + cast • Letterboxd

I was not lead astray, Klute was amazing. Despite being made 50 years ago at this point, the film feels wonderfully modern. Pakula makes numerous small decisions to elevate the neo-noir beyond any semblance of a basic crime drama. Scenes blend together and the usage of occasional voiceover obscure the films reality and build tension. This truly is a filmmaker’s film. It’s filled to the brim with smart directorial decisions the greatly enhance what could’ve been just another 70s gritty crime flick.

What I just said may not quite be fair. Even without Pakula’s wonderful direction, this film would not have been “just another 70s gritty crime flick” on the power of Jane Fonda’s performance alone. I actually know Fonda more for her protest work than her acting (though I have seen quite a bit of her acting as well), but her performance as the call girl Bree Daniels may very well be my new go-to image of her. She captures the brutally independent lifestyle with the insecurity and fear to portray the great depths of the character. It would have been all to easy to judge or demonize her character for her taboo profession, but Fonda’s Daniels loves the work. It’s something she’s good at and that she feels confidence doing unlike how she feels about her other passion, acting. It’s no surprise to me that this was the film that won Fonda her first Oscar. She is absolutely perfect in it.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 20

Today’s entry is going to be a little different. I did watch a new-to-me film today, but the reason I chose to watch it given the happenings in the US today are so prominent that rather than just talk about the film in depth, it makes sense to also talk about why I chose the film.

The Great Dictator (1940, Dir. Charlie Chaplin)

The Great Dictator | Atlanta Jewish Film Festival

After a four-year flirtation with a fascist dictator of our own, it only made sense to put on a film famous for its biting satire against one of the worst fascists to ever rule a country. These years had been difficult for me. As a trans woman, the relative stability I found my first year after transition under the Obama administration was stolen from me as the Tr*mp administration did everything it could to deny trans people protections under sex discrimination. As such, these last few years were ones without a lot of laughter for me.

Watching one of the slapstick greats bumble around in mockery of the classic dictator served as a great bit of catharsis. The Dictator Hynkel’s (Chaplin) speeches all being vaguely German gibberish were funnier now than I believe they would have been to me 5 years ago. Now that I’ve seen our very own blabbering dictator Chaplin’s performance seems all the more jabbing despite being from 80 years prior. The other satirical scene that seems even more pertinent is the scenes between the two dictators Hynkel and Napaloni (Jack Oakie). The grandiose blustering of the two ridiculous men is comical while not ring untrue to how we’ve seen thin skinned nationalist leaders behave recently.

The arguable greatest lasting impact from The Great Dictator is Chaplin’s closing monologue as the Jewish barber mistaken for Hynkel. This scene unlocked something important for me today. My personal politics land far left of our personal dictator’s successor. I was frustrated this morning watching the people I follow on twitter become increasingly horny for Biden; it felt like a betrayal of the real fight. I’m still jaded and pessimistic that Biden will actually fight for the working class, but after Chaplin’s monologue I’m personally more accepting of the benefit to having hope.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 19

I finally got my year end list out (located here in case you missed it), but it once again took up most of my free time so today is another short entry. Tired but committed to keeping the project going, I did what I frequently do when looking for a movie I can fit in: walked over to my Criterion shelf and pulled movies out until I found something with a 2-digit runtime. Is this me admitting that I have dozens of unwatched Criterion releases that I’ve not watch? Yes, I never claimed I was a good role model.

Fat Girl (2001, Dir. Catherine Breillat)

Cruelly Coming of Age in Catherine Breillat\'s Fat Girl | Page 3 of 4 | 25YL

At the 80-minute mark, of this 86-minute film, I had an idea in my mind about how I wanted to talk about the film. At the 83-minute mark the last 3 minutes had shocked me, but confident that it was just a fantasy of one of the characters I still felt I had grasp on Berillat’s vision. And then the movie ended, and the last 6 minutes weren’t a fantasy, and I have no idea what to think about that, so I’m going to ignore it for now and talk about the first 80 minutes of the film.

Last few minutes notwithstanding, Fat Girl is a coming of age/ sexual awakening movie about two teenage sisters: Elena (Roxane Mesquida) the older sister and Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) the younger one. While out on vacation the two take excursions to town and meet a grad student Frenando (Libero De Rienzo) who is instantly taken by the 15-year-old Elena. Frenando is a creep and the movie has no misgivings about that. He pressures Elena into having sex, guilts her when she feels uncomfortable and forces her to do anal. And yet when forced to leave Elena is destitute, because everything feels like the biggest deal in the world.

Where the film works the best is in the interactions between Elena and Anaïs. The sister very clearly get on each other’s nerves, but still deeply care about each other. The two are extremely open about their sexual attitudes and use one another to learn more about who they are and what their wants are.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 18

Really short entry today as I’m frantically working on the last couple of entries for my year end list. I don’t think I’ll quite finish up tonight, but I should be able to get the list out sometime tomorrow. That said I did watch two films today, the first was a re-watch of Selma (2014, Dir. Ava Duvernay) in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. day. Since it’s only a re-watch I’m not going to go into depth on it, but the film was even better than I remembered. Truly a modern-day classic. I wanted to keep the message from Selma in my mind, so I chose a film from Criterion Channel’s Black Voices collection.

Color Adjustment (1992, Dir. Marlon Riggs)

Color Adjustment (1992) - IMDb

Lucky me, this documentary on Black representation in television mentions and shows footage Martin Luther King Jr., so this pick was especially on theme. Color Adjustment worked well as both a lesson on television history as well as a Black history lesson. I may not have known many of the early shows that were shown, but they made intuitive sense. I would have assumed that television in the 40s and 50s would have an especially derogatory view on Black people. Two observations from later in the film really stood out to me as something to meditate on. The first is that Archie Bunker being an explicitly racist character was actually a welcome character because it acknowledged that racism was still an issue in society. Second and conversely, that The Cosby show had some damaging properties as it portrayed a version of Black America that didn’t exist anywhere.

Sorry again that today’s entry is so short. I’m just really trying to finish up this year end list.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 17

I always forget how much work getting my year end list out is. My goal was to have it out on Friday, and yet it’s still not out today, but I did make solid progress today. The progress did come at the expense of watching more movies with my day off, so only one entry today.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007, Dir. Cristian Mungiu)

Members' Screening: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days | Institute of Contemporary  Arts

Another reason that I didn’t watch a second film today was that this one was a brutal watch. I frequently watch dark films by career provocateurs, but this was the first time in a long time that a film has given me a panic attack. I’m extremely torn on this film. The film is technically amazing; shots are perfectly composed to evoke significant emotion as appropriate. The performances by the two leads Anamaria Marinca as Otilia and Laura Vasiliu as Găbița are wonderful. Their performances play off of each other well in the dark drama that often borders on thriller. Almost everything stands out to make this film seem perfect on paper, but through everything I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded that the writer/director Cristian Mungiu is a cis man telling an extremely personal and brutal woman’s story.

Content warning from here on out.

If a cis man wants to tell an abortion story, someone should immediately ask him, why you? And if that cis man then wants the abortion to be paid for by the sexual assault of the woman’s friend you should tell him to get the fuck out. I don’t know what Romania was like in 1987. This may be a completely realistic story to tell, but that still doesn’t mean he should have told it. The reason that most abortion stories involve a supportive friend, is because the comradery and support are important in normalizing abortions. Even if the rest of the world is antagonist to abortion, as long as the girl or woman has her friend along to hold her hand everything will be okay. Instead of doing that Mungiu punishes Otilia for supporting Găbița to the point that Otilia resents her friend. This decision leaves the film which many have lauded as a pro-choice film feeling nothing of the sort. The constant punishment makes 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days feel anti-choice and anti-woman. I said at the top of this review that I was torn on the movie, but the more that I think of it, I don’t feel torn at all. I hate this movie.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 16

I’m starting today off with a bit of personal background. The fact that I’m as into film as I am is unexpected considering where I came from. My family growing up was not a movie family, far from it. I can count on one hand the number of times that we took a family trip to the theaters, and there was no appreciation for classic film instilled in me. This left some serious holes in my viewed catalogue that I’m still working on filling. Years ago, if you would have pressured me on this, I would have considered it a personal failing and that it made me unworthy of calling myself a cinephile, but anymore, I just accept it as what it is, my personal reality. All this is to say, I watched two new-to-me classics today.

L’avventura (1960, Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni)


This film was absolutely beautiful, both visually and in it’s story telling. Act one of the film takes place primarily on an island where the rich characters are taking a holiday. It’s at the moment that our supposed protagonist Anna (Lea Massari) vanishes leaving us with her friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) and boyfriend Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) as the new leads. The island is home to some of the most striking shots of the film. It becomes easy to get lost in the beauty and forget the dark scenario that has taken place.

I may have mentioned an act one above, but one of the most interesting things about the film is how it subverts the three-act structure. Anna disappearing acts as a traditional inciting incident, and Claudia and Sandro searching for her is a rising action, but the film has no climax. It instead wanders focusing on characters and visuals. Antonioni just allows the film to linger especially on Vitti who is immaculate for every second that she is on the screen. A wonderfully perfect film.

The General (1926, Dir. Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman)

The General

If never having seen L’avventura is a blind spot for a cinephile, never having seen The General is like having a log in your eye, but that log has been removed. I’m actually a little torn on this film. Devoid of context the film is brilliant. The film is packed with wonderful physical comedy and impressive practical set pieces. I spent much of the film smiling at the wonder of this film from almost 100 years ago. And then there were times when I would frown and feel slightly sick to my stomach. The film was created 60 years after the civil war, and yet the hero is fighting with the confederates against the north complete with images of Keaton proudly waving the confederate flag. It was off-putting imagery in a film lauded by so many.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 15

I’m a simple cinephile, if Criterion put’s their name behind something I’m likely going to give it a shot. So today I decided to dive headfirst into the Afrofuturism collection on the Criterion Channel. With no prior knowledge of any of the films, I let my friend who graciously agreed to watch with me to pick what sounded good based on title and thumbnail. We ended up watching…

Welcome II the Terrordome (1995, Dir. Ngozi Onwurah)

BAM | Welcome II The Terrordome + Short

This movie was a hell of a ride. The film was filled to the brim with odd decision after odd decision, yet it all worked as a whole. The awkward instances of voiceover shouldn’t work, but they do. The whiplash inducing tonal shifts from dystopian schlock to exploitative violence shouldn’t work, but they do. I think what holds the film together, and the reason it feels especially pertinent despite its age is its message.  The film is unabashedly a BLM work despite being created 18 years before movement gained that name, and cumulates with an impassioned monologue spoken over a memorial for a young Black child killed because he was Black.

To compliment this feature, I also watched a few shorts from the same collection.

The Golden Chain (2016, Dir. Adebukola Dodunrin and Ezra Claytan Daniels)

Golden Chain — Adebukola Buki Bodunrin

A completely surreal bit of animation. The science fiction is dense while still being rooted in mythology. The short is striking in its unique use of the animated medium mixing techniques. I’m not all together sure that got the deeper meaning of the film, but it was a beautiful set of images to let wash over me.

T (2019, Dir. Keisha Rae Witherspoon)

Go Down, Death: On Keisha Rae Witherspoon's T - Burnaway

This 14-minute short deeply resonated with me. An exploration of grief through art in honor of those who would appreciate it. T shows an extremely mature understanding of filmmaking from the relative newcomer. The faux documentary style resonates as emotionally highlighted by Koko Zauditu-Selassie as Dimples. This grief is perfectly contrasted with love and joy exhibited by the pieces of art that sick in memory long after the run time.

1968 < 2018 > 2068 (2018, Dir. Keisha Rae Witherspoon)

<img src="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/576c61e5725e25e4c65dfd52/t/5f36f5ae0c8bae662487ea38/1597437370529/Screen+Shot+2020-07-30+at+9.38.22+PM.png?format=1500w&quot; alt="1968

After how much I loved T, I decided to watch the only other film Keisha Rae Witherspoon, the short 1968 < 2018 > 2068. And uh, I didn’t get it. It felt a little too much like a student film, but I’m not going to let that get in the way of my love for her follow-up.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 14

Something that I wasn’t overly clear on when I started this two weeks ago (and if I’m being honest, that’s because I didn’t know how I wanted to treat it then anyway) is that the movies I’m talking about, and that I’m forcing myself to watch at least one of a day, are movies that are completely new to me or that I haven’t watched since I started tracking my movies at the end of 2011. All of this is to say that in addition to the movies I’ve talked about, I’ve also re-watched the John Wick trilogy with a friend. With those films on my mind, it finally seemed time to break into the Criterion John Woo films that I picked up a while ago.

The Killer (1989, Dir. John Woo)

Hyperviolent and homoerotic, John Woo's gangster masterpiece The Killer is  as powerful today as in 1989 | South China Morning Post

Watching so many action flics in so short a time is extremely out of character for me. I only forced my way through the Marvel and Star Wars films out of a sense of obligation. I wanted to know what the average movie goer was talking about, but with rare exception they were just noise to me. All that said, I do still go out of my way to watch some action films, especially those that are highly regarded because a great action film is akin to a dance film in my eyes. The plot may be largely disposable, but brilliant choreography is still a sight to behold.

While the specific choreography in Woo’s The Killer may look a little less tight than films 25 years it’s junior, there’s no denying the film’s modern sensibilities. Condensing the action into heightened set pieces with unending arsenals and guns flying in addition to just bullets becomes a form of poetry. Even the doves that Woo is oft made fun of for I’d argue serve the set pieces. No other part of this film’s action is grounded, and the doves are just another form of reveling in the grandiose.

As much fun as this trip into action films has been, It’s definitely something that wears out is welcome easily for me, so It will be back to a string of dramas for me for a while. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see John Woo in another one of these entries before the year is up.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 13

Like I mentioned yesterday, I’m calling 2020 movie catchup officially over for the time being. I feel comfortable enough with the body of work I watched, and I’ve started the long process of putting together my year end list. Once the Oscar nominations come out, I’ll jump back in to the 2020 back log, but for now it’s time to fill in some older blind spots.

Faces (1968, Dir. John Cassavetes)

Faces (1968)

Cassavetes is a huge blind spot for me. His films have been on my list for years at this point, but it took Jessie Buckley quoting Pauline Kael on Woman Under the Influence (1974) in I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020 Dir. Charlie Kaufman) to move the American filmmaker to the top of the list. Instead of diving directly into the afore mentioned film, I chose to start with Faces. Just a personal preference of mine to start earlier in a director’s oeuvre so I can watch themes develop as I movie forward.

My initial thoughts upon watching Faces, is that I understand where the early works of Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski are coming from much better now. I’m sure many film purists would decry the comparison, but it’s clear that the mumblecore movement of the aughts took inspiration from this film.  Cassavetes’s characters may be close to middle aged in contrast with the fresh out of college adults in the mumblecore films, but the sense of ennui in the characters is unmistakably the same.

While Faces technically has plot, albeit a short one, the film stretches that lose framework to a rather lengthy 130-minute runtime. It does that by allowing each scene to play out to an uncomfortable length. Parties all cross the threshold from a good time being had by all to it being clear that everyone has overstayed their welcome in seemingly real time. Each character becomes more and more desperate as each scene plays on. Whatever vice starts as a diversion from internal despair can never change the miserable people they are. The main couple end the film smoking cigarettes on the stairs, forced to accept their current reality.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 12

Fun aside, if you’ve been routinely following my posts these two weeks you may have noticed a slight change today. I took the plunge and bought the domain, so as of today there’s no longer a .wordpress as part of the URL. Anyway, after yesterday’s much needed viewing diversion, I’m back to watching a 2020 film, but after today I’m artificially cutting it off. Tomorrow I’ll start working on my year end list with the hopes of getting it published by week’s end.

Driveways (2020, Dir. Andrew Ahn)

Film Review: Driveways (NZIFF 2020) | The 13th Floor

The last film I decided to watch before finalizing my list was one that wasn’t even on my radar 2 days ago, but critic who’s opinion I respect a lot, Marya Gates, listed it as her favorite film of the year so I had to check it out. I’m really glad that I watched this movie. It’s a small and quite film that I likely would have never known about had it not been for this endorsement. Small personal pieces like this are too often forgotten if an A24 or Annapurna or the like don’t pick it up. While it won’t top my year end list, it will be in definite contention to make the list.

The film itself is slight yet personal. Kathy (Hong Chau) is a single mother. She and her son Cody (Lucas Jaye) are traveling to clean out Kathy’s deceased, hoarder sister’s house. While there, the pair befriend the Korean War vet Del (Brian Dennehy) who lives next door. And that’s what I mean when I say slight. Director Andrew Ahn understands that the film doesn’t need to be aggressively packed with drama. Merely reflecting life is more than enough.

The mother son dynamic between the two leads is what allows the film to work as beautifully as it does. Initially, the relationship between the two is coded in a somewhat negative light. He is on a tablet constantly while she works with her headphones on (she’s a medical transcriptionist so they are required by her work). It quickly becomes clear that their actual relationship is anything but contentious; they are just stuck in a rough situation. The two actors have wonderful chemistry together perfectly playing the mother/son combo who are also best friends. Their time shared on screen is so precise that it allows the otherwise minor film to reach for greatness.