Author

About the Author
I’m Parker! I was raised in a military family and like most military families, we lived in many different places. I called Washington, Okinawa, Oklahoma, and Tennessee home before settling in Logan, Utah when I was in middle school. I went on a religious mission to Reno Nevada for two years, and now work as a program analyst for Conservice. My hobbies include watching as many movies as I can while also learning from them, reading books, hiking, and being distracted from the inevitability of adult responsibilities. So in the meantime, you can find me writing for Backseat Directors, and for my personal accounts on Instagram. You can also find me on my Letterboxd account: prj492

Martin and Malcolm

When filling out my Apocalypse Bingo sheet, I could have never guessed that a second Civil Rights Movement would be on the horizon. I found myself woefully undereducated about the nuances that are required for this subject. Luckily, one of the benefits of self-quarantine is that I have more time and the resources to learn more. And so, I set out to watch two movies that focus on two of the most recognized figures of the First Civil Rights Movement in America: Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Selma (2014)

David Oyelowo (MLK Jr.) and others Civil Rights activists march in a scene of Selma | Paramount Pictures.

During my elementary school years, I grew up in a small town near Memphis, Tennessee. Those days were filled with stories about Martin Luther King Jr.— taking field trips to the hotel where he was assassinated, and learning how much progress and change he brought to our nation. The impression I got was that he was a national hero that helped end racism in our country.

So imagine my surprise when I found out that, at the time when MLK was living, our government had the exact opposite opinion of him. I was shocked. I thought only white supremacists and racists had a poor opinion of him. So, when Ava DuVernay announced that her film ​Selma​ would be available to stream for free, I leapt at the chance to watch it. It ended up being one of the most relatable films to our current times that I’ve seen. David Oyelowo was the actor casted to play MLK, and I’m not sure there is anyone else that bears such a striking resemblance to him.

The movie tells of the struggle between the people who demanded change and equality for the Black community, and both the local and federal government who were more complicit with the status quo.

What I really appreciate about this film is that it highlights King’s dedication to non-violence, and his cunning in using his enemies’ prejudice against them to the movement’s advantage. He puts their bigotry and violence on full display for the country to see, and when the Alabama state troops conceded because of the backlash against their violence, the marchers turned back. This allows the President to reflect on the violence and outrage, which convinced him to pass a bill that will allow Black citizens to vote without restrictions.

While knowing a little bit about Martin Luther King Jr.’s involvement in the First Civil Rights Movement, this film helped me see him as a more layered, complex, and cunning person that helped the cry of the oppressed be heard more loud and clear.

Malcolm X (1992)

Denzel Washington standing behind microphones on the city street in a scene from the film Malcom X (1992) | Photo by Largo International NV | Warner Bros. Pictures.

I grew up not knowing who Malcolm X was, but once I heard of his existence, I was immediately bombarded with the accusations that he was a terrorist. I took that accusation as fact, so I spent years thinking that Malcolm was the radical violent version of MLK. While researching about the First Civil Rights Movement, I discovered that I was wrong. So, I was determined to watch the Spike Lee Joint and see the history I missed out on. The movie was three-and-a-half hours long, but it flew by with how interesting and enjoyable it was to watch.

While MLK was a Christian pastor who believed in unity and non-violence, Malcolm was an Islamic minister who, for most of his life, believed in segregation and equality “by any means necessary.” He taught that the white man had stripped the Black people of all their culture, their right to commerce, and even their identities. So there was nothing to be done than to live apart from another. He condemned leaders like MLK for pandering to the white community.

After becoming disillusioned with the Nation of Islam, Malcom took a pilgramage to Mecca where he realized that members of different races could live together in peace. He believed this could be obtained through Islam. After returning to the United States, he began to change his views on Black nationalism, and was later assassinated while speaking at the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

This film’s ending was especially powerful, with actual footage of Malcolm’s speeches interspersed with the film and a surprise cameo from Nelson Mandela. I am so glad I watched this film. It gave me a newfound respect for all of the different factions of the First Civil Rights Movement, and allowed me to view the depth of pain and alienation that bigotry and racism caused. Malcolm X was a powerful figure in the First Civil Rights Movement that should be highlighted just as much as MLK.

What Have I Learned?

We are all (hopefully) taught that overt racism is wrong. We’re taught not to judge people based on the color of their skin, not to call others names, that violence against others because of their race is wrong. This is overt/individual racism. Nearly everyone recognizes that this is wrong.

We are rarely taught about the real history of racism in America. It took the recent events of police brutality for me to really reflect on how much race, education, and socioeconomic circumstances are a factor in each of our lives. Whether we like it or not, slavery and racism is part of the history of our country and have cultivated many of the social situations that communities and families find themselves in today. Watching ​Malcom X a​nd ​Selma​ have helped me realize that while overt racism is generally frowned upon today, we still have a long way to go when it comes to addressing outdated policies and ideologies that seem to perpetuate racial tensions in our country. It’s easy to say in hindsight that we would have walked hand in hand with MLK Jr. or Malcolm X in the last Civil Rights Movement, but that might be disingenuous if we’re standing on the sidelines now. We must confront these issues head on and leave a better country and world for the next generation.

REVIEW: Bad Education

HBO
Rated: TV-MA
Run Time: 108 minutes
Director: Cory Finley

 I am at a point in my life where if I see Hugh Jackman attached to any film then that alone gives me immediate incentive to watch that movie.  He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest and diverse actors around today, so seeing him in a new movie was exciting. Luckily, I have HBO, so once I actually remembered that Bad Education was out, I quickly fired it up.

 One thing this movie has going for it is its spectacular use of writing to increase tension and give us insights into the characters. For the first twenty minutes or so, I was worried that I would find this show dull and uninteresting. But the tension kept rising and rising, and the characters kept getting more compelling until, by the end, I was on the edge of my seat! (Well…bean bag).

 I’ve seen many reviews calling this film the best performance of Hugh Jackman’s career. While the performance was excellent, I don’t think the role was dynamic enough to label it as his best. For that honor, I’ll steer you towards his performance as Tomás/Thomas/Tommy in The Fountain or as Wolverine in Logan. However, what this performance did give us was a truly three-dimensional look at what could have easily been a flat character. It’s a testament to how fantastic the writing is in this film. Jackman’s character could very easily come off as sleazy, callous, and selfish. Instead, we are confronted with a man who truly believes that spending the school’s money in order to give the appearance of financial affluence is the right thing, and would ultimately be beneficial for the progress of the school and the students as well. Allison Janney also gives a great performance in this film as well— although her character comes off less rounded than Jackman’s.

I will always champion well-written movies, and the writing for this film is its greatest strength. It elevates a story and characters that with a lesser script would be reduced for a very slow and dull story. Instead, it makes for a very compelling drama with empathetic characters. If you have HBO, or know someone who will lend you their password, give this movie a chance!

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Wendy

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rate: PG-13
Run Time: 112 minutes
Director: Benh Zeitlin

 Back in the “before Coronavirus times,” Wendy was the latest movie I had planned on seeing. The story of Peter Pan—like Robin Hood or Batman—is a story that Hollywood seemingly thinks needs to be told over and over again, every five to ten years or so. After the fever dream that was Pan (2015), I was convinced that there was nothing any movie could do that would revitalize my interest in the story. 

 Then I saw the trailer for Wendy. It was a new setting, an unknown cast, a more artsy feel, a more modern time period, and a new focus on Wendy. I was [H]ooked. (Haha, see what I did there?) 

 Then the theaters shut down, and after months of mourning my loss I realized Wendy could be streamed via Amazon and iTunes. So I settled into my beanbag and fired it up. And well… I was underwhelmed.

The Setting

Instead of taking place in Edwardian England, the story is set in the deep South of the United States, a little closer to our own time. Instead of Peter flying and listening to stories at Wendy’s window, he is aboard a “haunted” train that travels right next to the Darlings’ home and restaurant. Neverland is an island that they can travel to by boat. It takes the more whimsical parts of the classic story and makes it feel more grounded and realistic.  You would think that the Rural South and the lush island of Neverland would lead to some gorgeous cinematography, but I found it really uninspired.

Magic?

Near the beginning of the film you would assume that this movie would be an almost entirely grounded story with none of the fantastical elements of the original Peter Pan. There’s no flying, no Tinker Bell, no offensive stereotypes of Native Americans, and no mermaids; everything seems to be grounded in our reality. However, once they arrive in Neverland, they in fact do discover that no one grows old there because of a magical glowing whale/fish that lives in the ocean, which Peter calls “the Mother.” 

Not only do the children not age, but it is revealed that the children who allow negative or mature thoughts to enter into their minds age rapidly. These elderly lost boys and girls, whom Peter call “the Olds” live on the other, less lush, side of the island.

It’s really confusing that a movie that starts out so grounded in our reality will suddenly have an unexplained magical phenomenon that wasn’t part of the original lore, and even abandons key parts of that lore.  Tinker Bell and the ability to fly were not only the highlights of the original stage play, but also highlights of most of the movies after it. Heck, Tinker Bell is even integrated into the Disney logo (She’s the spark that flies over the Disney Castle)! It seems super weird that Wendy would ignore two of the most integral parts of the Peter Pan mythos. 

This image released by Fox Searchlight Pictures shows Devin France, from left, Gavin Naquin, Gage Naquin, Romyri Ross and Yashua Mack in a scene from the film Wendy | Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Characters

I had really hoped that the more realistic nature of the film would allow for more intimate connections with the characters—especially Peter and Wendy. Sadly though, all of the characters’ motivations are really vague and don’t let us connect or emphasize with them at all. What makes it even more frustrating is that the script lays all the groundwork for a really profound look at the way children view, understand, and process growing into adulthood. But the film never delivers on what it promises. We are left with the standard “I don’t want to grow up” line and are expected to be satisfied with that. Peter Pan (2003) (which I believe is the best film adaption) gives the explanation that the kids didn’t want to grow up because it meant having to conform to societal norms and lose a part of their identity. Wendy gives us hints that all the adults in children’s lives  seem poor and overworked, but on the other hand, they were loved by their parents. There was no inciting conflict between the Darling children and their mother to give them a reason to leave with Peter. (Side tangent, taking the Darling father out of the narrative also disrupts the symbolic themes of the story since the father and Captain Hook are meant to be shadows of each other, often portrayed by the same actors on stage and on screen.) 

There is also a weird power struggle between Wendy and Peter that I would have liked to have seen more fully fleshed out. In other versions, Peter either looks up to Wendy and defers to her as a motherly figure, or as a love interest. In this version, the age difference between the two is more drastic, and they seem to struggle for leadership over the lost boys. There’s one moment where I thought Peter was going to show the cruel streak that he exhibits in the novel, but then the moment passes. None of the lost boys are particularly interesting either.

One positive aspect that the film does bring to the characters is the relationship between Peter, Wendy, and the character who eventually becomes Captain Hook. The events, actions, and emotions that lead up to the characters taking on their more iconic roles was the best part of the film for me. However, this only constitutes the third act of the movie and also drastically impacts the main characters’ home lives, but the movie completely ignores it. 

Final Thoughts

I really wanted to like Wendy. I really thought it could bring something fresh and new to a story that people keep bringing back. We’ve seen so many different incarnations and this one actually looked like it could stand out. Sadly, it was just as forgettable as most others. It looks like we might have to wait until some horror director discovers Gerald Brom’s The Child Thief , or Disney cashes in on Peter and the Starcatchers before we get another truly unique and good Peter Pan adaptation.

It feels like the writer had the setting and the dynamic between Wendy, Peter, and Hook in the forefront of his mind when penning this film, but didn’t know how to fill in the space around it. What we are left with is a reimagining that changes or subtracts everything that made the original not only iconic, but also narratively and symbolically cohesive and satisfying. It offers up some good ideas, but lacks the fairy dust to make it soar.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

A Long Time Ago in an Imagined Scenario Not So Far Away…

Happy Star Wars Day!

The year is 2053. The Disney Wars continue to engulf the nation as the Mouseketeer Army advances from their home base on the Anaheim System. Both the Warner Bros. and the Universal Systems have fallen, causing the Netflix and Apple Systems to form a Resistance Alliance. In a last ditch effort to boost morale, the Alliance sent two undercover agents to Galaxy’s Edge in order to procure a rare asset to the Disney Empire to hold hostage: the theatrical releases of the original Star Wars trilogy. 

The spies were successful in stealing the asset and hiding the films, but were ultimately captured before they could escape and get them to the Alliance. Held beneath Smuggler’s Run, the spies are interrogated about the location of the rare films and forced to watch reimaginings of their childhood classics in an attempt to have them psychologically broken. Having grown up watching both the prequel and the sequel trilogies, the spies are confident that nothing can break their resolve. That is until The Empire puts on a TV special from 1978…

The two spies looked at each other nervously as the guard wheeled in a very old brown TV with a VHS player on a wheeled tray. The elder spy leaned over and whispered, “What are they gonna show us now? That looks like something my great-grandfather used when he was in elementary school!” 

The other shook his head, “They wouldn’t be showing us the original Special Edition, would they? We lived through those AND The Last Jedi. There’s nothing more that they could show us that we haven’t already suffered through.”

“So you may think,” said a sharp voice smugly behind them. 

The two men whipped their necks around to see the tall figure striding into the room. The spies allowed a small smirk to play across their faces for an instant. If their shenanigans aroused the ire of the Captain of the Lucasfilm Division himself, they must’ve done something right.

The Captain smirked back as he walked around them to the TV, shaking a VHS tape in front of their faces. “You see gentlemen, what you have stolen is quite valuable. We were planning on releasing those films in a higher definition format as an…heh hemmm…reward for those who lay down their arms and surrender. However, because of your antics, the Alliance has deprived the citizens of something they’ve been wanting for over fifty years. As we cannot allow this and nothing we have shown you seems to have no effect on you, I’m afraid we must subject you to our last resort.”

“Last resort?” The older man scoffed. “On a VHS? What could you possibly…”

The Captain laughed as the spy’s eyes went wide in shock as the realization hit him. “Ah, it’s nice to see the older generation still remembers it. Who told you about it? Your grandfather?”

The spy didn’t answer the Captain, but turned to his companion in a panic. “Don’t look at it, Roderik! Just close your eyes and don’t look!” 

The Captain barked out an amused laugh and rolled his eyes. “Oh, don’t be so dramatic. I am prepared to make a deal, since you two seem determined to defy us. You watch this tape, and I will give you the choice to reveal the location of the original trilogy. If you do, you are free to go with no consequences, provided that the films are still where you say they are. If you refuse, you will be allowed to keep the original trilogy, but we will release this film in high definition to counter it.”

Roderik frowned. “How is that a threat? What could you possibly show us that will persuade us to give up our most valuable hostage?” He grew more angry. “Do you take me for a weakling? I lived through the High Republic trilogy—through Rey Palpatine! What could possibly be so horrifying that it would sway us from our goal?” 

“Dark Rey” from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker | Walt Disney Studios

The Captain smiled cruelly as he inserted the tape into the VHS player. “Why don’t you watch and see?”

The old grainy footage opened to reveal a familiar scene, Han Solo and Chewbacca speeding away from the Empire in the Millenium Falcon. Han promises Chewy that he will be home in time for Life Day...

Roderik frowned. “I don’t know what this is.”

The older spy groaned and hung his head. “I don’t think I can bear watching this again.” The Captain slapped the back of the man’s head. “If you want to go free, you will watch all of it.”

The older man reluctantly lifted his eyes back to the screen as the title credits rolled: The Star Wars Holiday Special

As images of the cast flashed across the screen, Roderik leaned over to the other man and whispered, “John, why does Mark Hamill look so… weird?”

“Just keep watching,” John muttered.

The scene now shows the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk as Chewbacca’s family appears to get ready for Life Day. They groan and moan in the Wookie language to each other over…and over…and over again.

Twelve minutes later…

How long does this go on,” Roderik cried, struggling against his restraints. “No subtitles for this? I can’t take it anymore!”

“Calm yourself, man,” Roderick hissed. “It’s only going to get far, far worse.” 

Lumpy, Chewbacca’s son, turns on a holographic display of what seems to be acrobats. After this, the family tries to contact Luke Skywalker who is fixing his X-Wing. 

“What in the name of all that is holy is wrong with Luke’s face?!” Roderik shouted. “It looks like he has twelve pounds of stage makeup on! And don’t get me started about that haircut!”

“You will be silent,” the Captain growled, cutting the younger man off.

For the next hour, the Alliance spies were subjected to a variety of different clips that aggravated Roderik further, and caused John to slip into a deep despair—from an alien cooking show, tech support , a rock music video, an actually semi-decent Boba Fett cartoon, and another musical number. What nearly drove Roderik over the edge, though, was the erotic music video that Chewbacca’s father found great pleasure in watching near the middle of the special. 

“I can’t take it anymore,” he yelled at the Captain. “What the hell is this? Who signed off on this? This isn’t Star Wars!’

“Rod, shut up,” John snapped. “There’s only an hour left. One hour and we are free to go. Remember why we are here!”

Holding back his sobs, Roderik nodded and continued to watch.

Nearing the end of the special, the Chewbacca family reunite with Han, Luke, and Leia as they gather around the Tree of Life; Leia sings a song about Life Day as they all hold glowing orbs. The dead look in Harrison Ford’s face as the film ended is the same look that reflected in Roderik’s own face. 

“So, now you have a choice,” the Captain declared. “Do you tell us the location of the stolen films, or do we release the Holiday Special? The choice is up to you, Roderik.”

John’s eyes flickered back to full alertness at this new development. “Why only him?” 

The Captain grinned. “Because you are the last of the older generation that understands just how many changes were made to the franchise. His generation does not. If he wants the pure, unadulterated films as they were originally, he should have the knowledge of everything that came out in those days, not just the ones you older folks seem to worship. So, what will it be? The responsibility is yours.” 

“Rod, think about it! For the first time in history, we can have the original films legally! No unnecessary CGI! No dubbing over Boba Fett and Darth Vader! You can see Darth Vader’s original Force Ghost…”

He was cut off by the Captain raising his hand to silence him. “Your choice, Roderik. Make it quickly.”

After a long pause, Roderik sighed. “We hid the tapes in a room under the Pirates of the Carribean ride when we were trying to escape.”

“Rod, NO!”

He looked over at his companion. “I’m sorry, John. No one should ever have to suffer through this. The changes are bad, yes. But it’s all we know. This will totally destroy their perspective.” 

“A wise choice,” the Captain sneered. “Guards, let them go and retrieve those tapes.”

Two guards stepped forward and began dragging them away, not noticing the look of triumph in John’s eyes. The third guard looked at the Captain curiously. “Sir, how did you know that showing them the tape would break them?”

He chuckled, “We’re part of the Disney Empire. Ruining childhood memories is what we do.”

The guard started laughing but then suddenly stopped, his eyes growing wide as something Roderik said stood out to him.

The Captain glared at him. “What is it man?”

“They said they hid the tapes in Pirates of the Caribbean. Fantasy Land is quite a distance from here sir. Why run there?”

“They were running?” he scoffed. “Who knows their logic?” 

“Sir, they said they hid them in a room underneath the ride. No one is supposed to know about that room.”

The Captain stopped, his normally calm demeanor shattering as terror filled his eyes. “No… You think the tapes were a decoy? But that means…” As if his fears could hear his thoughts, a message blared over the speakers of the ride:

“ATTENTION, IMPERIALS. THIS IS THE ALLIANCE. WE HAVE WALT DISNEY’S CRYOGENIC CHAMBER. YOU HAVE LOST.”

The End

2oth Century Fox Televison
Release Date: Nov. 17, 1978
Run Time: 98 minutes
Directors: Steve Binder & David Acomba

Actual Review

The Star Wars Holiday Special is every franchise at its lowest. It attempts to cash in on its popularity without providing the effort to connect it to what makes the franchise so beloved among fans. With only half-hearted cameos from the original cast that look like they’d rather be anywhere else and guest stars performing dated sketches that range from weird to seriously uncomfortable, this TV special is a stain on the Star Wars legacy that even George Lucas is ashamed of. What they should have done is have Lumpy watch an hour-long cartoon about Han Solo and Boba Fett. The cartoon segment was the only unironically enjoyable segment, and could have provided some interesting segway into The Empire Strikes Back. Instead, we are left with an uncomfortably bad TV special that is so reviled that it can only be found on YouTube in a very low resolution quality. The one spot of hope in this monstrosity is that no matter what Lucasfilm comes up with next, it will never sink lower than this. Although the above story is a humorous work of fiction, it would not surprise me if this Special was used as a torture device somewhere. It’s that bad. If you’re brave enough to venture into these depths, the entire video is posted below. May the force be with you!

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: Abe

 It’s rare when my parents and I have a movie we all want to watch at the same time. When I was looking at all the movies the Salt Lake Film Society (SLFS) ‘At Home‘ streaming service was offering I came across Abe and showed the movie trailer to my mom. It looked like a movie we’d all enjoy, so we decided to watch it over the weekend. This looked like a sweet story about overcoming religious and cultural barriers that the whole family would enjoy. 

Blue Fox Entertainment
Rated: PG
Run Time: 85 minutes
Director: Fernando Grostein Andrade

Authenticity In Our Stories

 I believe that the stories we tell mold and shape the way we view our world. Diversity in race, culture, gender, ability, and sexuality are all important to see in film as it contributes (however minor)  to our collective tolerance and understanding.

 There are those, however, that claim that any media that attempts to portray a character or culture that is anything other than white cis heteronormative is only doing so to be “politically correct.” And while maligning those cultures and characters simply for being “the other” is wrong and deplorable; there have been some occasions where a film has lazily used a culture/race/gender/sexuality/disability without any research or effort in order to seem “woke.” Let me be clear: diversity in a film is not the issue; bad writing and the lack of authenticity is. Even the most casual of movie-goers (the “popcorn munchers,” as my old boss would lovingly refer to them) can sense when a movie is not being authentic. 

Abe, fortunately, is an extremely authentic movie. It tells the story of Abe, a twelve-year-old boy living in New York whose descendants are from Israeli Jews on his mother’s side, and Palestinian Muslims on his father’s side. Both sides of his family encourage him to go after the faith of their family, constantly pitting themselves against the other side.  Abe’s father, himself disillusioned by all religion, tries to persuade Abe to abandon faith altogether while his mother insists that he is still a child and therefore unable to make any important decisions. Abe seeks to reconcile the two factions in his family, and is inspired by a local Brazilan fusion chef, Chico, who runs a food truck in Brooklyn. He seeks Chico out and becomes Chico’s student. The story moves along as Abe seeks reconciliation between the two factions of his family, and fusion between food.

What I seriously appreciate about this movie is that while there are opposing sides to the family, the film doesn’t divide them into “good” and “bad” sides.  Both have their own faults and good intentions. The father doesn’t want Abe to feel pressured, but he also pushes atheism on him to the point that Abe feels frustrated that he feels like he can’t value any traditions. His mother also doesn’t want to push anything on Abe, but smothers him with her mothering. This film could’ve very easily made one belief the “right” one, but instead had all the nuances, triumphs, and failings that the varying cultures deserved.

A family prepares a meal in a scene of Abe | Blue Fox Entertainment

Food and Family Fusion

Good grief, this movie is mouth watering! Just watching this movie made me want to be more serious about cooking so I could eat all of the food in the movie. But beyond that, I was really impressed that Abe didn’t start out immediately as a cooking prodigy.  He had to learn, grow, and improve as a chef under Chico’s tutelage. The first time he even attempted fusion food (Ramen tacos), it turned out horrible. It shows Abe wanting to learn a skill, failing, learning from his mistakes, and getting better and better over time. I really appreciated that. It shows people that skills aren’t magically inherited or sustained by just raw talent—you have to work at it.

The symbolism between the harmony of the two different sides of the family, and the fusion food that Abe learns to perfect is an absolutely brilliant take that I’m glad got incorporated into the movie.

Noah Schnapp and Seu Jorge in a scene of Abe | Blue Fox Entertainment

The Heart and the Stomach

When we put this movie on, I thought I was in for a visual feast with a story about the power of good food. And I got that. But I was totally unprepared for the emotional gut punch this film would bring. I couldn’t even blame the on-screen onion for my tears! All joking aside, this movie tells a powerful story about culture, family, and acceptance.

Final Thoughts

Abe is an absolutely incredible film that is truly needed in this day and age. Too often we define our relationships with others based on what divides us. Abe (both the film and the character) reminds us that although our divisions may be great, we can always find something that unites us. 

Shout Out: Once again, a big thank you to the Salt Lake Film Society and their At Home streaming service for consistently providing a great film selection during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are in need of a fascinating documentary, check out Fantastic Fungi. As always, if you choose to watch any of their films, consider donating to help keep them in business during this time of economic turmoil.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Extra Ordinary

Cranked Up Films
Rated: R
Run Time: 94 minutes
Directors: Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman

While perusing the lineup of films available through the Salt Lake Film Society (SLFS) “At Home” streaming theater, I came across the trailer for Extra Ordinary. Normally (as a matter of personal choice) I tend to stay away from horror movies that deal with demonic possession, but seeing that this was a comedy (and an Irish comedy at that) I decided to give it a go…

BOY, WAS I GLAD I DID.

Crazy Plot

Words cannot express how unbelievably BONKERS the plot of this movie is, but I’ll try my best to explain. Rose (Maeve Higgins) is the daughter of a famous ghost hunter and has inherited the ability to communicate with spirits; but she is afraid of her talents to the point that she swears off ghost hunting forever. Martin (Barry Ward) is a widower who lives with his daughter Sara, and they are haunted by Martin’s deceased wife, Bonnie. Christian (Will Forte) is an untalented one-hit-wonder who makes a deal with a devil in order to regain popularity. He targets Sara as the object of his sacrifice, causing Martin to turn to Rose to help save his daughter. 

There’s quite a bit going on in this film, and fortunately the script is tight enough that it never becomes muddled. It allows these crazy characters to move the crazy plot along without anything becoming overly confusing or convoluted.

After the film had concluded, I was sitting back and thinking about everything that had happened in the movie, and I realized that I would gladly watch a mini-series or a TV series about these characters just getting into mischief. The plot was so fun to watch—I want to see more of this world!

Irish Charm

This sort of story in the hands of a more mainstream movie studio would have surely overblown the setting and the humor. The Irish setting and location helps the movie stay more grounded, and provides the movie with all the quaint and charm of a Celtic countryside. It reminds me of other ‘Irish’ films like Leap Year (2010) with Amy Adams, or Waking Ned Devine (1998). The humor is a step below the quips and over-the-top physical humor of Hollywood, but a step above the complete deadpan humor of British comedies like The End of the F***ing World (2017). It coasts in the middle for a slightly deadpan, whimsical,  charming comedy. Plus, I’m a HUGE fan of Irish accents, so every bit of character dialogue was music to my ears.

Barry Ward and Maeve Higgins appear in a scene of Extra Ordinary | Cranked Up Films

Characters

The characters are what truly make this movie absolutely hysterical; all of them are extremely likeable and fun to watch. Rose is a super relatable protagonist just trying to get by in life and maybe find someone to share it with.It is such a joy to watch as she and Martin quickly become friends. Speaking of Martin, Barry Ward does an EXCELLENT job acting seeing as he has to portray being possessed by different spirits throughout the film. I am always impressed by actors and actresses that can just disappear into their roles and make it believable. Christian (a really ironic name for a satanist) is HYSTERICAL as a man who just wants to sacrifice a virgin to the devil, but keeps getting interrupted by literally everybody. All the characters are so fun and really make this movie a joy to watch.

Final Thoughts

Extra Ordinary is a funny Irish film that is a perfect remedy during this time of confusion and fear. It’s nice to just relax, kick up your feet, get some microwave popcorn, and have an enjoyable time. I loved every minute of it and I will be sure to get it on Blu-ray when it comes out!

In the meantime, check out the catalog of new movies that the Salt Lake Film Society is making available to viewers at home through their “At Home” streaming service. Click here.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

John Wick: A Modern Day Greek Tragedy

Keanu Reeves as John Wick has quickly become one of the most iconic action-movie stars | Summit Entertainment

Last “Black Friday” I decided to rectify a huge error I made as a cinephile and watched the John Wick trilogy. Walmart had a pretty good deal for all three movies on Blu-Ray, so I went ahead and bought them. Flash forward to last month when I wanted a break from the cycle of television binging and decided to finally see what all the fuss was about. Turns out that all the films totally lived up to the hype! All three films were nearly perfect action films that actually had great fight choreography, unlike our modern, almost-epileptic, overly cut and edited fight scenes (looking at you, Black Panther). But even more enjoyable to watch was the way John Wick utilizes different aspects of Greek, Roman, and Christian mythology to tell its story. I originally was going to use this editorial to describe the various myths and the way they were portrayed in the John Wick franchise, but I think Movies With Mikey has me covered. Instead, I decided that I would use this time to explore the ways that John experiences grief and loss, and how the story is more in line with a typical Greek tragedy.

Ancient Greek mythological tale of Orpheus rescuing his wife, Eurydice from Hades.

Orpheus: What if?

The Greek Tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice is a tale about a man (Orpheus) who descends into the Underworld to retrieve his wife (Eurydice) from Hades. He is told that he can take her, but only if he does not look back during the long road up to the surface. At the very end of the journey, Orpheus, unable to resist, looks back and thus loses his wife forever.

In the John Wick universe, The Continental rules the crime world, and can be symbolic of the Greek Underworld. In the first film we learn that John has a chance to leave the Underworld (The Continental) to be with his wife Helen (a reference to Helen of Troy), on the condition that he could not return to the life he had known. Unlike Orpheus, John does not look back. He and Helen stay happily married for (presumably) many years. This retelling of the Greek legend doesn’t end in tragedy—or rather, the same kind of tragedy…

Keanu Reeves in a scene of John Wick (2014) | Summit Entertainment

The Boogeyman

 At the start of the first film, Helen dies from an illness and leaves John with an adorable little beagle in order to make the grieving process a little easier to bear. Unfortunately, Ioseph, the son of a notorious Russian mafia boss, has his eye on John’s car and decides that he wants it for himself. After having John refuse to sell it to him, Ioseph and a couple of his cronies break into John’s house, steal his car, and kill his dog. This act sets in motion a chain of events that leads John to taking on the Russian mafia, The Continental, and the all-powerful High Table. He plows down wave after wave of enemies in order to take vengeance on those that wronged him. But the ripples he makes in the Underworld only cause him to be noticed by prying eyes as more and more people seek an audience with him—for good or ill. The legend of ‘Baba Yaga’ (the Boogeyman) grows from a ghost story of the past into a threat of the present. 

John’s legendary status in the Underworld, and his actions in taking back the mantle of ‘Baba Yaga’, ultimately condemns John: he loses not only his dog and car but also his house, and finally his wedding ring. 

Keanu Reeves in a scene of John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) | Lionsgate

Looking Back

 The reason we love John Wick is that it gives us the ultimate injustice—the loss of the ability to grieve. John has almost everything taken from him, and goes on a rampage to seek catharsis; and we, the audience, need the catharsis too. But that feel of relief comes at much too high of a cost. What starts as a simple revenge spirals into complete chaos until John is forced to take on the entire Underworld. Near the end of the third film, Winston, the owner of the Hotel Continental, tells John, (and I’m paraphrasing here because I can’t find the exact quote) “You have a choice: you can either give up now and honor her, or you can become the monster she’d always feared you were.”

In the ultimate twist of irony, John Wick (the modern Orpheus) turned back after all. In seeking revenge against Ioseph, John returned to what he sacrificed in order to be with Helen; and as consequence, lost all physical reminders of her: his car was stolen and destroyed, his dog was killed, his house was blown apart, and even his wedding ring was taken by the Elder of the High Table. Throughout the course of the trilogy, the man known as John Wick slowly died, taken over by ‘Baba Yaga’.

Keanu Reeves and Anjelica Huston in a scene of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum | Lionsgate

The End?

 Ultimately, I predict that the story of John Wick will not end happily. In my opinion, there are only two ways the story will conclude. The more optimistic way to end will have John finally refusing to kill, and lay down his weapons of war. This act of defiance to the High Table would lead to his death, but he would die as John Wick—the man who loved his wife.

 The more tragic end that could possibly occur is where John Wick fully embraces the mantle of Baba Yaga: the Boogeyman of the High Table—he would live, but now fully trapped, in the Underworld.

 But no matter when and how the series ends, there is one thing for certain: the John Wick franchise will go down in cinema history as one of the greatest action franchises of all time. I am super glad I picked up the series on Black Friday, and I can’t wait to see what the future installments have in store!

REVIEW: Ordinary Love

Focus Features
Rated: R
Run Time: 92 minutes
Director: Lisa Barros D’Sa & Glenn Leyburn

“How do you say to someone ‘don’t die’?”

I saw the ​trailer​ for ​Ordinary Love​ during the previews before ​Emma​ a couple of weeks ago, and I couldn’t wait to see it. ​​A heartwarming Irish film with Liam Neeson? Count me in! The trailer felt like warm, creamy hot cocoa gently blanketing over my soul. However, what I got was more like a discount dollar store hot chocolate mix in tap water. It wasn’t awful by any means, but it felt like such a mediocre attempt at a much better movie. I am going to forgo my usual division of “My Quibbles/What I Liked” and focus on this movie as a whole while I explain why this movie didn’t stick for me.

First, no one can or should say that Liam Neeson or Lesley Manville are bad in this movie—because they aren’t. Lesley Manville actually does a phenomenal job as Joan going from nervous concern at finding a lump in one of her breasts, to acceptance that she has cancer, to pain ridden anxiety, to a quiet dignified perseverance. Her performance was the highlight of this film. Seeing Liam Neeson as Tom in a more quiet, subdued role rather than the elderly action hero was a really nice change of pace as well.

The main premise of this film is a year in the life of an ordinary Irish married couple who go through the ordeal of finding out that one of them has cancer. We are informed that they have been married for many years, have suffered tragedy, and are very comfortable with each other as friends and spouses… Or so we are told.

The film begins with the couple taking their normal morning walk followed by breakfast. We then hear them make playful jabs at each other—over and over and over again. At first, I was amused by how comfortable they seemed with each other. But before the cancer diagnosis, all they do is insult and argue with each other. It was starting to feel like less of a playful relationship, and more like a concealed abusive one. As the film progresses, Joan’s prognosis gradually takes over the couple’s life and puts a strain on their relationship. Joan increasingly thinks that Tom is not taking her cancer seriously, and Tom is frustrated with his feeling of powerlessness, and doesn’t want to accept the seriousness of their situation.

Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville in a scene of Ordinary Love | Focus Features

This is where the film fails to deliver. We are told that the couple has this loving relationship, but we never see their relationship outside of the “playful” insults and the arguing around the house. In fact, Tom doesn’t seem to even be emotionally invested in Joan or her prognosis outside of a few scenes: one line where he asks another patient’s spouse, “How do you tell someone to not die?”; when he begins to cry after his pet fish dies; and one monologue at his daughter’s grave. We spend almost an hour-and-a-half seeing Joan suffer, and Tom doing the bare minimum of driving her to the hospital and being in the same general area as her. In one major scene, Joan calls Tom out on avoiding her; choosing to watch a soccer game and leaving her in bed alone while in pain. The film seems so preoccupied with being subtle about the couple’s relationship, that they don’t allow for any positive emotion to slip though. Inwardly I was channeling Ebenezer Scrooge, crying “Let me see some tenderness!”

The message the movie was trying to tell was the age-old classic of spending time with the ones we love while we have a chance. But they were also so concerned with keeping it subtle that it sucked all positive emotions right out of it. This is a love drama with very little love, very little tenderness, and very little positivity. What we are left with was an entirely ordinary (pun intended), forgettable, “romantic” drama.

Recommendation: NO GO

REVIEW: Emma

Focus Features
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 124 minutes
Director: Autumn de Wilde

One of the biggest sources of contention between me and my darling mother is which version of Pride and Prejudice is superior: the Colin Firth version or the Keira Knightly version. I am more partial to the 2005 version due to its cinematography, music, and more modern approach to the dialogue. My mom prefers the more drawn-out version where the dialogue is super book-accurate. It is an argument that has never (and most likely will never) be resolved. Up until a few days ago, Pride and Prejudice and its varying version, was my only exposure to anything Jane Austen.

I knew from the moment of the trailer that this would be a movie that my mom and I would bond over when she eventually saw it, and I leapt at the chance to see an early screening of it at the Broadway Center Cinemas. I’m happy to say that this Jane Austen adaptation combines the best aspects of both Pride and Prejudice adaptations into a film that movie goers from any generation would appreciate and enjoy.

My Quibbles…

Random butt: Near the very beginning of the film, one of the male characters (I honestly don’t remember who) is changed by his servants and we are exposed to his full backside. There is no other overt sexual humor or nudity for the rest of the film, so the unexposed view of this character’s posterior felt really out of place.

Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn in a scene of Emma |Focus Features

What I Liked…

Anya Taylor-Joy: Ever since The VVitch, Split, and Glass I have been carefully watching Anya’s career with great interest. After seeing her in all serious roles, I am ashamed to admit that I was doubtful that she could pull off a comedic role, especially in a period piece. Well, I am glad to say that DING DONG I WAS WRONG. Anya embodies a Jane Austen character; she can go from snarky and quick-witted, to incredibly humbled and repentant in an instant and make it believable. It was refreshing to see her have so much fun and delight in such a different role than what she normally does. Her chemistry with all the actors was super genuine, and I really hope she gains more popularity.

Bill Niighy: I am entirely convinced that Bill Nighy can do no wrong. His character as the Woodhouse patriarch was absolutely HYSTERICAL. Every scene he was in had me laughing; it was his subtle mannerisms and biting commentary that did me in every time. The relationship between him and Emma is beautiful and sweet, and he stole the show every time he was on screen.

The score: My hat goes off to both the composer and the sound editor for this film. They managed to pull off a score that is beautiful, period appropriate, and acts as an amplifier for the humor. There is a term called “Mickey Mousing” or “paralleled scoring” where the music is synced with the action on screen, mostly for comedic timing. (60 Second Guide to Film Music [3] – Mickey Mousing) Emma uses this technique in such a brilliant subtle way that highlights the hilarity of the situations the characters find themselves in. It’s not overt, so it doesn’t seem too cartoony, but it is there, and I loved it.

Wes Anderson-like aesthetic: For most film fans, the name of Wes Anderson is synonymous with symmetry, quirkiness, and a pastel color pallet. Emma has all the makings of a Wes Anderson flick without being as precise and detail oriented, which isn’t a bad thing. Emma doesn’t need to be a Wes Anderson film, but the similarities make for an absolutely beautiful thing to look at. The color choice is simply gorgeous and fits right along with the period production design. The cinematography of Emma comes close to almost perfect Wes Anderson symmetry, allowing the film to have an elegant feel to it, without crossing the boundary to overly quirky. Overall, this is a stunning film to look at.

Mia Goth (left) and Anya Taylor-Joy (right) in a scene of Emma | Focus Features

Final Thoughts…

Emma is a quintessential Jane Austen movie that combines the aesthetic of a modern film with the dialogue from the time period. The film is witty, charming, hilarious, and well acted. Each of the four people I saw it with had the same reaction: “My mom is going to love this movie!” And do you know what? I loved it, too.

Recommendation: GO SEE IT!

REVIEW: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Pyramide Films
Rated: R
Run Time: 120 minutes
Director: Céline Sciamma

The first thing that piqued my interest about this movie was the title. And then I learned that it was a French film. But not just any French film, it was an LGBT+ romance. By the time I saw the trailer, I knew that this film needed to be firmly on my radar. Unfortunately, since Cache Valley is relatively small compared to the rest of Utah, the chances of seeing any independent film that wasn’t nominated  for Best Picture at the Oscars at our local theater is pretty slim. Thankfully, Broadway Center Theaters (operated by the Salt Lake Film Society) answered my cinephile prayers by showing all the lesser- known indie movies that I could want. I want to give them a huge shoutout for being awesome, and accommodating film buffs like me!

I was not prepared for this two-hour work of art I was about to experience. This movie was so impeccably crafted that when the credits began rolling, you could see my tear-stained face in the reflection of the screen. Normally when I review a movie, I like to get all the things I didn’t like (my quibbles, as I like to call them) out of the way before moving on to the things I thought were well done. Well, (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) I have nothing to report that I didn’t like! This movie was THAT good. So, this entire review is just going to be me gushing about how good this movie was.

Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in a scene of Portrait of a Lady on Fire | Pyramide Films

The Acting

Noémie Merlant (who plays Marianne) and Adèle Haenel (who plays Héloïse) are absolutely phenomenal as the two leads. All the acting is spectacular, and the two leads really bring their A-game to this movie. One thing I really appreciate about international and independent cinema is the different approaches they have to the way acting and emotion could be conveyed on screen. This film had the potential to be overly-melodramatic, but it is more meditative and thoughtful. Every facial expression has meaning and adds depth to the characters. I became so focused on what their expressions were saying that the first time that Héloïse smiles, I wanted to cheer! Every desire, every confession of love, every heartbreak is written all over their faces without having to ham-fist it down your popcorn-stuffed throat. And the acting is only enhanced by the cinematography…

Héloïse, played by Adèle Haenel, in Portrait of a Lady on Fire | Pyramide Films

The Cinematography

There are certain movies where the cinematography is the main standout of the film. Movies like 1917 or  Birdman, (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)  where the one-shot technique is the device, or like The Lighthouse, where it was filmed entirely in black and white and on a 1.19:1 aspect ratio. Portrait of a Lady on Fire does not boast of any major achievements or innovations in cinematography. Nevertheless, it is one of the most well-shot movies I have ever seen. Every camera angle and movement is geared toward highlighting the emotion and thoughts of the characters—I hate to use the cliché “every frame a painting,” but that’s what this movie felt like.

The Score (or lack of)

You would think that such a beautiful, intimate movie would have a haunting, sweeping romantic score to go along with it…. Right? I was so engrossed with the movie that it was near the halfway mark when I was shocked to realize that there was no score. Nothing. In fact, there are only two diegetic pieces in the entire film. One is a piece called “Portrait de la jeune fille en feu” (written for this film) and the other is “Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 8, RV 315, ‘Summer’” by Vivaldi from The Four Seasons. Both come at highly emotional significant points in the film, and the lack of any other music (diegetic or non-diegetic) frees and allows the viewer to take in every sound, every gasp, every whisper. By NOT having an intimate score, it allows the movie to feel even more intimate.

Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in a scene of Portrait of a Lady on Fire | Pyramide Films

The Subtlety and Subtext

Like I said in my commentary about the acting, the film could have really hammed up the melodrama and not be subtle about its messages at all. Thankfully, the dialogue and themes of the film are just as well crafted as the rest of the movie. In an interview with The Guardian, Céline Sciamma (the director of this film) said that that the French found this film not to be erotic because “it lacks flesh.” And really, they are right. Unlike another French lesbian romance film, Blue is the Warmest Color, Portrait of a Lady on Fire contains very few scenes of nudity, and no sex scenes at all. The story is not about the two leads’ sexual relationship, but the very real love and affection they have for each other. I found that to be quite refreshing. 

The motive of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the various interpretations of that myth that the characters present, is also quite fascinating. The idea that Opheus “chose the path of the poet rather than the lover” by turning back to look at Eurydice was a fascinating observation and gave the outcome of the plot of the movie weight and clarity.

One other thing I really enjoyed is actually getting to see Marianne paint. There was no montage where the finished product sprung into view. We spent time watching her sketch, telling Héloïse how to pose and position herself, mix the paint to create differing colors, and so much more. It allowed time for us (and the characters) to really know Marianne and Héloïse, and understand their feelings and motivations.

Final Thoughts

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is nothing short of a masterpiece. It was crafted as a living portrait of these two women as they fall in love with the complexities and expectations of the society surrounding them and governing their choices. The acting, cinematography, minimal use of music, and the screenwriting were all masterful. It was announced in December that this film was joining the prestigious Criterion Collection and, in my opinion, it is more than worthy of that honor. If you have the privilege of having this film playing in a theater near you, make this movie one of your top priorities.

Recommendation: GO SEE IT!

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