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Joel Mayward

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Everything posted by Joel Mayward

  1. Here's my top 20 of 2019. For those just wanting to see a list of films, here's the top 10: 1) A Hidden Life 2) Amazing Grace 3) The Lighthouse 4) The Irishman 5) Portrait of a Lady on Fire 6) Parasite 7) Light from Light 8) For Sama 9) Booksmart 10) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  2. There's an interesting parallel made between Jojo Rabbit and the Dardennes' Young Ahmed in this MUBI piece on the politics and problems of Jojo and Bombshell, which I think articulates my critiques of the film and its "good people on both sides" better than I could: Still, I appreciate that you found the film hopeful, Ken. And it does seem to be a favorite for many. Josh Larsen has a very positive review:
  3. FWIW, my main critique of Jojo was less of genre or tonal dissonance (although that bothered me too) and more that it seemed to ultimately promote a misguided sort of “Not All Nazis” message, especially with Rockwell's character arc, but arguably also Jojo's. Maybe Nazis weren’t all that bad; perhaps some were just misunderstood misfits, like Klenzendorf and Jojo. Whether this is what the film intended or not is debatable, I suppose. And there's a part of me that wants to believe that message from a Christian redemption perspective—i.e. that even the very worst sinners can be forgiven and redeemed by grace—but I don't think the film is promoting that sort of redemption at all, nor do I think Nazis and the Holocaust can just be shrugged off with a little laugh and a silly dance (which seemed to be how Jojo ends). But there are plenty of critics I respect who really enjoyed the film, and I genuinely want to understand what they found valuable in it, because I can't seem to see it.
  4. My review. I really enjoyed it overall, and the back-and-forth narrative structure won me over. The shot of Beth playing the piano and Mr Laurence walking down the stairs to listen really stands out in my memory. And I really thought Florence Pugh was excellent as Amy. That character could be so one-dimensional, but Pugh is convincing as both a whiny tween girl and a refined Parisian woman in the same film, which is quite the acting feat.
  5. Somehow one of the best films from this year hasn't been nominated yet, so, I nominate For Sama. A harrowing documentary about a young couple serving in a hospital in war-torn Aleppo as they raise their infant son. It's a difficult film to watch at times, as one never gets used to seeing actual dead bodies or real-life explosions, but the life and love also shown here is often powerful enough to overcome the brokenness.
  6. Brett emailed me with a nomination for Little Women (now a third!), and seconds for 63 Up and Burning Cane.
  7. I will second Strange Negotiations, a documentary about Seattle musician David Bazan (Pedro the Lion). The filmmaker, Brendon Vedder, seems open to sending a screener link if you're interested.
  8. Yeah, I'm being a bit hyperbolic here to make a point. I'm simply suggesting that stories and myths can grow and change, even going seemingly opposite directions from the known trajectory, and that this new trilogy had the potential to do this had it followed what Johnson was doing and not Abrams. Yes, this. Johnson's approach seems to be questioning possible misinterpretations of the past or a willingness to be wrong (the emphasis on failure, on "kill the past" etc.). this opening for the possibility of expansion. This is a very different from Abrams' nostalgia-fest and retcon approach, which makes Last Jedi feel quite odd sandwiched between the two Abrams films, a sort of tonal whiplash. Rewatching Force Awakens immediately following Return of the Jedi really makes Abrams' fan-placating vibe stand out—he truly re-made A New Hope beat for beat. I still think it would have been much more interesting to have the Republic be in power and Kylo Ren and the First Order as a story of underground terrorist group, the "rebels" of this new post-Empire world. It could have had such political complexity, to have the Republic wrestle with how to *not* become another Empire, to learn from the Jedi's mistakes from the prequels, etc. Anyway, that's partially why I still think The Last Jedi has merit, and is more visually and narratively interesting than Rise of Skywalker.
  9. I revisited the Star Wars films in Machete Order prior to watching Rise of Skywalker in order to have fresh eyes, and I ended up really appreciating Revenge of the Sith and Last Jedi a great deal more than I initially did, especially when viewed in this order. I think the former is remarkable for its profound tragedy and its stellar Williams score, as well as a few fascinating visual moments. Revenge is downright horrifying in many ways, which is unique for the Star Wars films, and it really demonstrates how Anakin could turn to the Dark Side for seemingly good reasons (i.e. he wants Padme to live, and believes eternal life can be found in the Dark Side's powers). It goes places even Empire doesn't in terms of real pathos and moral atrocities—I mean, Anakin kills a bunch of children in what is ostensibly a kid-friendly franchise. And on Letterboxd, I wrote that Last Jedi is "the most visually interesting, the best acted, the funniest, and possibly even the most emotionally affecting of the entire Star Wars saga." There are profound images which have stuck in my memory: the Holdo maneuver, the speeders on the red-and-white salt planet, the Wings tracking shot on Canto, the death of Rose's sister in the opening bombing run, Leia's "space walk" and that shot of her in a cape on the salt planet, the reunion scene of Luke and Leia, the fight in Snoke's throne room, the "Forcetime" chats between Rey and Kylo, Luke and Yoda sitting in front of the burning tree, and...I could go on. Driver and Ridley's performances in Last Jedi are arguably the strongest in the entire saga, and feel less stage-y or wooden, more emotive and sincere. And the humor works for me in Last Jedi in ways that just didn't in Abrams' films, perhaps due to script, but also due to the timing. I just laughed more, and teared up more. And in terms of ideas, the notion of "let the past die; kill it if you have to" is one worth wrestling with—what does it mean to honor traditions while moving forward into new futures, remembering the past while expanding our horizons? For the first time, I noticed that in final shot of Last Jedi, the anonymous "broom boy" uses the Force to bring his broom to him, a tiny moment which I totally missed the first two times. Just this shot alone opens up so many possibilities of where the saga could have gone, as it suggests that the Force has truly awakened and is moving in this universe in new and profound ways. And when it comes to critiques of coherence and continuity—i.e. they changed the "rules" of this story—I simply turn to the Bible, a book which is profoundly incoherent and inconsistent in many ways, yet nevertheless seems to communicate beauty and truth in meaningful and transcendent ways. Now, Star Wars isn't scripture, but I hope you know what I'm getting at here: it's possible to build upon and expand a story while holding true to a tradition without necessarily negating it. In Machete Order, I simply ignored Episode I, midichlorians and all (I didn't revisit Rogue One or Solo either). I may do the same for Rise of Skywalker and simply let the saga end in my mind with The Last Jedi. Less Palpatine sex.
  10. Things I am still pondering about The Rise of Skywalker (spoilers): –This film raises far too many uncomfortable questions about the sex life of Emperor Palpatine. Do I really need to wonder when and how that guy was impregnating someone, probably somewhere between Episodes II and III? It's also still very unclear to me as to which of Rey's parents is Palpatine's offspring—does this film every clarify this? Some reviews I've read assume it's Rey's father, but I don't recall that ever being spelled out. It was great to briefly see Killing Eve's Jodie Comer as Rey's mother; I wish she had been given more to do, as Comer is remarkable as Villanelle. –The Abrams films began exploring the lives and origins of Stormtroopers in more detail, depicting them not as clones (like in the prequels) or as faceless evil soldiers (OT), but as brainwashed slaves, child soldiers who are raised to fight for the First Order but may still retain a conscience and certainly have a family somewhere. This human trafficking element is decidedly dark and complex, but it also makes every battle all the more tragic—every time a Star Destroyer is blown up and we see Poe Dameron cheering, that's thousands of kidnapped trafficking victims who have died. There's no effort to save them from their slavery, even by those who know the stakes (Finn in particular). It could have been a powerful moment in the film if there was just a recognition of this dilemma; even more powerful would have been an effort on the Resistance to redeem the Stormtroopers. Like, what if Rey via the Force prompted the Stormtroopers to drop their guns, to turn on Palpatine and the Generals? –There is also an introduction of female Stormtroopers, first with Captain Phasma in Force Awakens and Last Jedi, but in Rise of Skywalker we hear female voices barking orders as well as crying out when shot by Poe and Finn when they go to save Chewbacca, and the character of Jannah indicates that perhaps many Stormtroopers are women/female. I'm not sure what to make of this new dynamic with the Abrams films. –As much as I like Oscar Isaac, the character of Poe Dameron feels shallow and incomplete. If I had to ask you to describe Han Solo—his motives, his values, his relationships—after just Star Wars (even just after the Mos Eisley scenes and escape) you could do this quite easily. But now after three films, who is Poe, really? What are his values? His friendships or enemies? Who matters to him? There's an attempt to give him a backstory and a love interest of sorts here, but those feel heavily borrowed from Han Solo. Poe's primary character qualities appears to be snark and brashness and going "woohoo!" when blowing stuff up. And I suppose he loves BB-8. –The final shot of Rey on Tatooine is so thematically muddled as to be a complete misfire, in my opinion. The last time we see Rey, she is totally alone (besides BB-8) and staring off into the Tatooine sunset. I know this is Abrams alluding to Luke's sunset hero shot in Star Wars, but that moment is supposed to depict Luke's loneliness, his hopes and dreams not being able to make it past the horizon of this desert farm life—it's a sunset, not a sunrise! And when Rey is asked about her last name and she replies "Skywalker," it makes little sense in light of all that had come before. Abrams goes to great lengths to placate Star Wars' fans' expectations that Rey is Force sensitive (and thus important) because of her bloodline. She is a Palpatine, and that's what makes her vital to the saga. But this "choose your own last name" moment reverses that premise. She's not a Skywalker; she's a Palpatine. But now she can be a Skywalker because...she just says she is? And that final shot is so lonely and sad. Where every film in the OT ended on a group shot of the small community—even the tragic Empire Strikes Back—this is Rey back to where she began: alone and isolated in a desert, having to make up her own story and meaning. –One very brief and "blink or you'll miss it" moments is the return of Denis Lawson as Rebel pilot Wedge Antilles. Wedge is one of the only Rebel pilots who survives that first run on the Death Star, and he appears in every one of the OT films. So it was a nice nod to have him back in the final frenetic Endgame battle. –What did Finn really want to tell Rey? Was this ever answered? Does it even matter?
  11. I will happily second Atlantics and High Life. The former is available on Netflix, the latter is on Kanopy (not sure if it's available other ways in the US).
  12. My spoiler-free review. FWIW, I marked this as "Rotten" at RT.
  13. The balance between performative and sincere really works will in the scene, as I wonder how many marriages (mine included) have been shaped and informed, tacitly or overtly, by cultural works and performances we've seen in films, TV, theater, etc. Perhaps if our imaginations are so shaped in this way, it comes out in our kneejerk reactions in those emotionally raw moments. Plus, Nicole and Charlie are performers—they're theater people, so that shapes their imaginations and practices and reactions as well. I think the film worked as well as it did for me precisely because my wife and I watched it together, and our audible reactions to it—gasps, groans, etc.—throughout watching the film added to the experience. (E.g. I loved it when Katie muttered "just shut up" when Charlie says something about being a "New York family" for the umpteenth time.) Not sure it's a film we'd want to rewatch any time soon, though, unlike the Before trilogy.
  14. Brett McCracken emailed me this list of nominations: A Hidden Life Peterloo Us Diane The Last Black Man in San Francisco Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Ad Astra Peanut Butter Falcon Parasite The Irishman Knives Out Age Out The Farewell Amazing Grace Strange Negotiations Waves For those films already nominated, Brett's nomination will be considered as a "second" for the film.
  15. Joel Mayward


    Just watched this last night, and when I wrote a few brief thoughts on Twitter, Christian prompted me to check out this thread. I agree that the film is more interested in simply depicting religious beliefs as part of Diane's life and story, and less interested in critiquing those beliefs or making sweeping judgments about Christianity, per se. The dinner between Diane and her son and daughter-in-law felt so real to me, because I *know* people like that, on all accounts (both hardcore Pentecostal types and quietly Catholic types). When Diane says that she already has a church and she's already saved, and the evangelicals don't believe here, well...I've pastored people with just that same belief, who have hosted such events or dinners to try to spring the Gospel on their unsuspecting Catholic friends or family. So seeing it on screen made me think Jones is deeply aware of such subcultures and practices on some level. I think Diane's actions and postures towards others—she is going from place to place and simply being with hurting people—felt incredibly Christlike for me, although I'm increasingly hesitant to call characters "Christ figures" these days (my PhD research and the plethora of really bad interpretations of films by biblical scholars and theologians who see Christ figures everywhere has left me a bit cynical on the subject, I suppose). But the way Mary Kay Place portrays Diane with such sympathy and tiredness is remarkable, and I found myself loving her, if that even makes sense. I was grieved when her cousin died, and openly wept when her best friend died. All the while she carries these burdens with a silent resilience. It's a remarkable performance. My only quibble with the film, one which keeps it at about a 7/10 instead of a 9/10 for me, is the conspicuous performance from Jake Lacy, who plays Brian, Diane's son. It's like he's from a totally different film, and whatever he's doing always felt like he was *always acting* to me, especially when every other performance feels so sincere and subdued. I guess that could be intentional on Jones and Lacy's part, that a drug addict-turned-Jesus freak should always feel like a performative act or hypocrisy (come to think of it, I do know real people like this too, where every time they speak it's like they're giving a performance and trying to convince you that they're sincere), but in the moment of watching, it always took me out of the filmic experience.
  16. As someone with little-to-no knowledge of Sondheim, this was eye-opening to read. I knew it was a song from a musical or broadway show, but knowing the context adds a lot of layers to what's happening in the scene.
  17. Solid review. I'm curious what you mean by this:
  18. I will also nominate Peterloo. This should be available on Amazon Prime (at least it is in the UK), and is worth your attention. Not an easy watch—lots of speeches and talking, all leading up to inevitable state-sanctioned violence—but lots of present-day resonance, and there's a brilliantly scathing scene with a British magistrate writing a letter and pontificating about his innate power and importance while a painting of Christ on the cross seems to peer down on him from the wall behind him.
  19. This was way better than I anticipated. A political satire, a historical drama, and a quasi-horror film all filmed with impeccable direction by Leigh and DP Dick Pope.
  20. I know it doesn't officially release in the US until next week, but I'm still surprised that someone here hasn't seen A Hidden Life and seconded it. I will nominate The Two Popes, a film which surprised me with its humor and emotional complexity. I'm not sure how well the characterizations match the actual real-life people, but Pryce and Hopkins both give excellent performances, and there are all sorts of interesting political and religious conversations to be had about the film. A divine bromance.
  21. For documentaries, I would prioritize FOR SAMA and ONE CHILD NATION, if you haven't already seen them, Ken.
  22. Thanks Evan! If anyone catches discrepancies or films I've missed, please don't hesitate to mention it so I can keep the nominees list updated and correct.
  23. My Top 67 Films of the Decade. Here is the top 10: The Tree of Life The Kid with a Bike Moonrise Kingdom First Reformed A Separation Two Days, One Night Upstream Color Leave No Trace Paterson Mad Max: Fury Road
  24. Watched this on a plane ride recently, and it was much better than I expected, albeit a whole lot darker too. As an adoptee, I didn't expect the story about foster care and adoption, so it hit me pretty hard emotionally at certain moments in ways I wouldn't have anticipated for a superhero comedy film about wizards. And some of the action sequences are genuinely great, in that you can actually see what's happening and the editing isn't frenetic.
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