Alex Sitaras: A film you brought to my attention was Land of Mine (dir. Martin Zandvliet). The film’s title is a bit of a play on words, it referring to the land mines that German POWs in Denmark are forced to remove, many of them losing their lives in the process. This event following World War II is not one that I’ve heard of, but I think it’s interesting to create a film about since it’s persuading us to sympathize not with the victor, but with the Germans following the end of World War II.
Matt Schlee: Yeah, it’s not a film that I know much about but as I’ve heard buzz around it, my interest has increased. The trailer looks visually striking and the subject matter sounds interesting. I’m generally hesitant with war films, but I do tend to lean more toward films about long past wars like WWII. The trailer also doesn’t give the impression that the film leans to much on violent war scenes, and instead looks to be more dependent on the people and events involved.
Alex: That’s the sense I got from the trailer as well. It seems more so a character drama than a war film, speaking more so to human cruelty and tribulation rather than honor or patriotism. And the beach scenes, as you pointed out, should allow for aesthetically pleasing shots. Why do you enjoy war films about older wars better?
Matt: Essentially I find that movies about older wars to be more driven by portraying the history while movies about more recent wars tend to be more geared toward glorifying military action. There have been a handful of excellent movies about the conflicts in the Middle East, but overall I find myself more engaged in movies about the World Wars and other conflicts from that era.
The film I’m probably the most excited for this month is Raoul Peck‘s documentary I Am Not Your Negro. It discusses racial issues faced by the African-American community. It’s narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. I’m particularly interested to see how it tackles the racial divide and it’s evolution over time compared to other recent documentaries that have discussed racism like 13th and OJ: Made in America. The movie’s ratings haven’t been great, but I’m optimistic based both on hearsay, and just how great it looks in the trailer. I’ll definitely be looking forward to checking this one out.
Alex: That’s interesting that you mention ratings since I checked Rotten Tomatoes back when browsing through February films and it has a score of 96 on there. But then I checked iMDB and it’s rated 5.0 by user ratings, which tend to be manipulated by external/social factors (for instance, A Dog’s Purpose‘s iMDB rating). I don’t remember any controversy around I Am Not Your Negro, but I’m curious about why the sharp divide between public and critical opinion. None of the written reviews on iMDB are negative, so it’s probably just people disliking the subject matter of the documentary rather than criticizing its quality.
It should also be mentioned that I Am Not Your Negro is inspired by an unfinished manuscript written by social critic James Baldwin.
There’s been a copious amount of film, TV, and music released in the past few years relating to the African American experience and the unfortunately still-prevalent social/political/economic inequality. At least in music, I think this started in 2014 with albums like Run The Jewels 2, D’Angelo‘s Black Messiah, and really kicking off with Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp A Butterfly in early ’15. I think a similar movement started in film also in 2014 with Selma, but it’s beginning to really pick up with the documentaries you mentioned (not to mention fiction films Loving, Moonlight, The Birth of a Nation, and Hidden Figures) that were released last year and now with I Am Not Your Negro this year. With a concerned public during the Trump administration, there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing even more documentaries and fiction films relating to these topics in the near future.
Have you seen 13th or OJ: Made in America by any chance?
Matt: I think, and certainly hope that we will continue to see more works of art geared toward raising awareness of minority issues. The trend to bring public attention to these problems through film and music is so powerful. It’s been a significant trend in TV too this year with shows like Atlanta and The Get Down bringing attention to black culture.
I’ve seen 13th. It focuses on the prison-industrial complex and how “law and order” policies have disproportionately affected minority communities. It’s very stylish and eye opening. I’ve been watching OJ: Made in America episodically so I haven’t made it through the whole thing, but what I’ve seen tends to frame OJ in a few different ways. It views him as a sports icon, as a celebrity, and as a figure in the black community. I expect I Am Not Your Negro to address racial tensions more directly than these, especially OJ: Made in America, but I still think it’ll make for an interesting overall comparison. Interestingly, all three earned nominations for Best Documentary- Feature, perhaps showing some remorse from the Academy after last years controversy regarding the lack of diversity.
Alex: Unfortunately, I haven’t seen too many documentaries relating to minority issues and social injustice, so that’s why I asked you if you’d seen them. I’d like to spend a weekend sometime and watch them.
Stepping away from Black History Month and towards Valentine’s Day, we have Lovesong (dir. So Yong Kim). The film features Jena Malone, who I enjoyed in The Neon Demon, and reunites The Girlfriend Experience star and co-creator, Riley Keough and Amy Seimetz, respectively, in acting roles. The film is about two women, Sarah and Mindy, who embark on a road trip together. After the two become physically intimate during the trip, Mindy disappears and stays out of touch until she invites Sarah to her wedding three years later. The trailer kind of reminds me of Andrew Haigh‘s film Weekend, a film about two gay men, one of the men experiencing difficulty embracing his identity as homosexual, who hook up and spend only a single weekend together. I imagine that if Weekend hypothetically had a sequel where the two men are at different stages in their lives, it could be kind of similar to Lovesong.
I think one of the scariest things about falling in love is that one can still feel the same romantic feelings years later regardless of whether they can be acted upon. But maybe I’m just too sentimental or receptive to melodramas. Any thoughts on Lovesong?
Matt: To be honest I don’t have much background on the movie other than the first trailer which I saw a few days ago, but I was intrigued. I think it’s interesting that the story seems to be occurring at a point when these women are sort of settled into their lives. Usually stories like this occur at an early point in the character’s lives when they’re still discovering themselves, but this seems more like a reunion. Setting aside the romantic aspect, the tone of the trailer reminded me to an extent of Kelly Reichardt‘s film Old Joy. Though Reichardt is usually pretty muted, so if the movie ends up being melodramatic, that comparison won’t hold up.
I think the thing I’m most excited for this month is Criterion’s release of Richard Linklater‘s Before trilogy. If you cling to the Criterion forums like I do, you know that this has been hotly anticipated for some time. I actually didn’t get into Linklater until after it was announced that these would be coming to Criterion, so I’ve been waiting to see them on Blu-ray. That said, I’m a big fan of Linklater’s work, especially his more sentimental films, and I can’t wait to dive into this box set on the 28th.
Alex: Definitely. In the past year, the Criterion Collection has announced and released of a lot of long-awaited fan favorites; Mulholland Drive, Punch-Drunk Love, Dekalog, the Apu trilogy, … and now the Before trilogy. I don’t really see how Criterion can live up to this in the coming year.
Regardless, the Before trilogy was probably our first glimpse at the kind of filmmaking that Linklater utilized in Boyhood. In Before Sunrise, the first film of the series, a man, Jesse (Ethan Hawke), meets a woman, Céline (Julie Delpy), on a train when traveling through Europe. He persuades her to leave the train with him and explore Vienna where the two walk around and fall in love. The film ends in the morning when the two separate as Céline takes her train. Each of the following films in the trilogy takes place nine years later and is ultimately a character study of a couple as their relationship, and themselves, change over the years. I for one hope that Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy continue to make one of these films every nine years in the future. I think there’s a lot to potentially be explored as the couple reaches old age- there’s not a lot of romance films about middle-age/elderly couples.
Each film of the trilogy takes place in a different location in Europe (Vienna, Paris, Greece), and I’ve read stories of couples visiting the same places Jesse and Céline visited, following in their footsteps.
Even for those who have seen the Before trilogy before, I’d likely recommend seeing the new Blu-rays. There was a post on r/criterion that compared the color correction on the original films and the remastered versions. There’s a surprising amount of difference.
Which films of Linkater’s have you seen?
Matt: Well of course I’ve seen Dazed and Confused, which is about as good an ensemble coming of age movie as has ever been made. And his 2016 spiritual follow-up, Everybody Wants Some!! is one that I caught up with recently. Despite the mixed reviews on that one, I really enjoyed it. It felt almost like a modern Animal House. The characters were delightful and funny and it was a joy to watch.
Of course I’ve seen Boyhood. That one always surprises me in terms of how quickly the long run time goes by. It’s so well paced, I never feel like I’m watching a three hour film.
One of my childhood favorites was School of Rock, though I can’t say I knew that I was watching a Linklater film at the time (but seriously, Criterion needs more Jack Black). And I technically subjected myself to a viewing of his remake The Bad News Bears. Do you have any thoughts on these or any of his other movies in particular?
Alex: I didn’t really realize that Everybody Wants Some!! received a bit of criticism until after I had written my review for it and someone commented on it and informed me of the mixed response and their thoughts on the film. As a current college student, it honestly isn’t too far off in regards to how people my age spend their time; I thought it was actually a truthful, relatable film.
I think Linklater has a talent for writing dialogue and creating characters and we see this time after time again in all of his films. We might not always admire the characters he creates, but there’s definitely at least one or two characters in his films that we can relate to. For instance, Boyhood was déjà vu for me growing up in Texas. I actually watched it right after my second or third week of college. The ending was striking since it ended almost exactly at the same stage of life I was in.
Also, I think if you like Boyhood, you would definitely enjoy the Before trilogy.
Another Criterion release I’m looking forward to from this month is The Tree of Wooden Clogs (dir: Ermanno Olmi). To be honest though, I haven’t seen any of Olmi’s films yet. Have you seen any?
Matt: I haven’t, and truthfully I’m not all to familiar with him in general. This is definitely something of a blind spot for me. However, I’m very intrigued by it. There were some interesting films coming out of Italy in the 70’s and this looks to be a very artistic callback to the neo-realist days.
It’s pretty cool that Olmi himself oversaw the 4K restoration that Criterion is releasing here. You don’t often see filmmakers actively revisiting their films like that, but the fact that he is willing to go back and put in the work to help restore it shows that this film holds personal importance to him.
Alex: I didn’t know he himself oversaw the restoration, but that makes sense. I’ve heard the DVD version floating around wasn’t a good transfer.
The film takes place in 19th century Italy and focuses on peasant life. Olmi used real farmers and locals in filming the movie. Since it’s neo-realist, I expect there’s some statement on the poor or daily life that Olmi makes and I always find it impressive when a director can stretch these concepts over a lengthy runtime and continue to keep the film engaging.
Matt: I agree. And I’ll be curious to see how it compares to the films made at the height of the neorealist movement in the 40s and 50s.
Well it should be an interesting February. Though this is usually a slow month in the world of new movie releases, there are clearly some things to look forward to, plus the endless upcoming Academy Awards speculation, as well as the new buzz that will start to build around films we can look forward to over the coming months now that Sundance has concluded.
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