Could 2021 Be the Greatest Year in Movie History?

A guest post by Jonathan Dorst

This past December, many of us watched a rare occurrence in the night sky- the ‘great conjunction’ of Jupiter and Saturn that some called the Christmas Star. As I look ahead to this year in movies, coming on the heels of Netflix’s announcement of their planned weekly movie release, I am wondering if there will be a great conjunction of films. With the many films that were held over from their original 2020 release dates combined with the normal slate of 2021 releases, will 2021 become the greatest year in movie history? To answer that question, we first need to ask three other questions.

The obvious first question is, When will people go back to theaters? Many people might not return in mass until the fall, or even into 2022 (and some people, having spent thousands of dollars on home theaters during quarantine, may never return to a traditional theater at all). But, with the news of Warner Brothers pictures now being released on HBO Max the same day as they premiere in theaters, it would seem that the streamers are winning the release war and will pick up the slack of theater revenue. Nevertheless, it’s possible that some of the big releases this year might get pushed back to 2022 by nervous studio executives, like Damien Chazelle’s upcoming Brad Pitt/Margot Robbie-starring film Babylon has already been.

The second question: What is coming up this year, and why should we expect a great year? To start with, let’s talk about the directors who have films slated to come out this year (how spoiled are we?): Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson, Edgar Wright, Guillermo Del Toro, Steven Soderbergh, Taika Waititi, Paul Schrader, Kenneth Branagh, Peter Jackson, Denis Villeneuve, Ridley Scott, Sam Levinson, Cary Fukunaga, Adam McKay, Jane Campion, Tom McCarthy, Ramin Bahrani, and more. 

You’ve got lots of potential blockbusters: Top Gun: Maverick, Black Widow, No Time to Die (the new Bond film), Dune, Sherlock Holmes 3, The Matrix 4, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, F9, Cruella, Mortal Combat, A Quiet Place II, Godzilla Vs. Kong, Uncharted, Jungle Cruise, The Suicide Squad (not to be confused with 2016’s Suicide Squad), and Death On the Nile

You’ve got auteur-driven films: The Card Counter (Schrader), Last Night in SoHo (Wright), The Northman (Eggars), The White Tiger (Bahrani), No Sudden Moves (Soderbergh), Next Goal Wins (Waititi), Pinocchio (del Toro), and possibly Killers of the Flower Moon (Scorsese). 

You’ve got your musicals and musical biopics: In the Heights, Respect, and The Beatles: Get Back. You’ve got Tom Hanks in Bios and the Untitled Elvis Presley Project. You’ve got Pixar (Luca), Disney (lots of stuff, including many of the aforementioned blockbusters), DC (Morbius), Marvel (Black Widow and a new Spider-Man), and a long-awaited Space Jam sequel. Get your popcorn ready, there’s a lot coming this year.

The third question is, What’s the competition? Which years in movie history are the best up to this point? This, of course, is a matter of great debate, and is probably hopelessly subjective (unless you just go by box office receipts, in which case 2018 would be the champ). But, it seems that there are three years that are regularly considered by critics and film buffs as the greatest year in movie history: 1939, 1962, and 1999. 

1939 has the distinction of having the highest-grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation: Gone With the Wind (which also won Best Picture). It was a time when the studio system was at its height, with great directors, stars, and producers cranking out movies for an audience hungry for entertainment. It also saw this murderer’s row of classics and very good films: The Wizard of Oz, John Ford’s Stagecoach (some believe to be the greatest Western of all time), Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Gunga Din, George Cukor’s The Women, William Wyler’s Wuthering Heights, Howard Hawk’s Only Angels Have Wings, Ninotchka, Destry Rides Again, Love Affair, Kenji Mizoguchi’s The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, and Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game

1962 benefited from a historical oddity: many international films that were released in 1960 and 1961 were released in 1962 when distributors realized they could make money on these films. As the book Cinema ’62 notes, 1962 was a time when the studio system was changing greatly, a slew of great international directors- including Kurosawa (Sanjuro), Ozu (An Autumn Afternoon), Bergman (Through a Glass Darkly), Truffaut (Jules and Jim), Resnais (Last Year At Marienbad), Antonioni (La Notte and L’eclisse), Bunuel (Viridiana), Tarkovsky (My Name Is Ivan)– were at their prime, and subject matter began to evolve to include more of the human experience. The slate of American and English-language films released in ’62 is pretty good, too: Lawrence of Arabia (that year’s Best Picture and box office champ), To Kill a Mockingbird, Dr. No, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, The Manchurian Candidate, The Miracle Worker, The Music Man, The Longest Day, Gypsy, Sweet Bird of Youth, Cape Fear, Lolita (Kubrick), The Trial (Welles), How the West Was Won, Mutiny on the Bounty, and Days of Wine and Roses.

Economics played a part in 1999 being a great year: DVD sales were booming, which meant that studios could take a chance on films that could recoup box office losses in DVD revenue, and it was not yet the golden age of TV. ‘99’s box office champ and Best Picture winner are not very good: Star Wars: Episode 1- The Phantom Menace and American Beauty, respectively. The best films of that year, though, were made by a who’s who of the-newly-arrived great directors: Memento (Christopher Nolan’s best), Fight Club (David Fincher’s best), Hard Eight (Paul Thomas Anderson), Election (Alexander Payne), Titus (Julie Taymor), Three Kings (David O’Russell), and The Insider (Michael Mann), along with great and very good films like The Matrix, Being John Malkovich, The Iron Giant, Toy Story 2, Run Lola Run, Brokedown Palace, The Sixth Sense, Topsy-Turvy, 10 Things I Hate About You, Office Space, The Green Mile, The Hurricane, Man on the Moon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Boys Don’t Cry, Eyes Wide Shut, The Straight Story, Bringing Out the Dead, Any Given Sunday, All About My Mother, Notting Hill, and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

A couple of runner-up years: 1946 saw a number of great films get released on the heels of WWII, including It’s a Wonderful Life, Notorious (Hitchcock), The Best Years Of Our Lives, Shoeshine (de Sica), Great Expectations (Lean), My Darling Clementine (Ford), The Big Sleep, Gilda, The Killers, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Stranger, Henry V (Olivier), A Matter of Life and Death, Paisan (Rosselini), Children of Paradise, and Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau). 1974 is a strong representative of ‘70’s cinema (which some see as the highest film genre yet invented!): The Godfather II, The Conversation, Chinatown, Scenes From a Marriage, Amarcord, Blazing Saddles, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Murder on the Orient Express, The Front Page, The Great Gatsby, Lenny, The Parallax View, Sugarland Express, and A Woman Under the Influence. 1994 was influential in many ways: The Shawshank Redemption (the highest rated IMDb movie ever), The Lion King (maybe the greatest animated movie ever), Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, Hoops Dreams, Ed Wood, Quiz Show, Crooklyn, Reality Bites, Natural Born Killers, Dumb and Dumber, Speed, Little Women, and Legends of the Fall.

One could make an argument for 2007 as the greatest year of this century so far (There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men, The Lives of Others, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Counterfeiters, The Departed, The Queen, Dreamgirls, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 3 Days, Gone Baby Gone, La Vie en Rose, Away From Her, Juno, Into the Wild, Zodiac, Once, Ratatouille, Babel, I Am Legend, Michael Clayton, and Atonement). As to whether 2021 will become the greatest year in movies, if I were going by the one and only 2021 release I’ve seen so far, I would say: “Yes!” Amazon Studio’s Herself is an excellent indie from Ireland. Ultimately, however, my guess is that 2021 will not be the greatest movie year ever for the simple fact that so many productions were shut down in 2020 due to COVID. But, it’s easier now than ever to make a movie, and many productions have improvised and proceeded. We’ll just have to wait and see where the chips fall, and then argue about the merits of 2021 versus all the other great movie years for the next decade or so. Happy viewing!

You can read more of Jonathan’s reviews at:

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/chorusinthechaos/author/jonathandorst/

Dragging The Dead On Leashes: Generational Sin in Netflix’s “Dark”

A guest review by Kevin McGuire

“To a world without Winden”

“Winden won’t give up that easily”

-Ulrich and Hannah, 1986 (Season 1, Episode 3)

Dark’s opening scene takes place thirty-three years after this exchange, where the small town of Winden is as rotten as ever. Jonas Kahnwald has just returned to school following his father’s suicide. The nuclear plant, long a source of civic pride and economic stability, is set to be decommissioned. Half the residents seem to be involved in extramarital affairs. The police department is investigating several cases of missing children. Entire flocks of birds drop dead from the skies with no apparent explanation. Created in 2017 by director Baran bo Odar and writer Jantje Friese, this German Netflix series centers on a handful of local families, and the dark secrets in the town’s past responsible for the current problems. Time travel quickly comes into play, and as various characters attempt to change the past to fix the present, it becomes apparent how deeply the roots of their modern pain lie in their actions and those of their ancestors.

In case you haven’t picked up by now, this is not a happy show. The New York Times described it as “the show for people who thought Stranger Things was just a little too much fun”. Dark is simultaneously a technical and narrative masterpiece and a difficult show to watch. In preparation for writing, Friese read over 100 books on quantum physics, psychology, philosophy, and theology – and it shows. Direct references are made to numerous scientific concepts by name, everyone in-universe is capable of directly quoting both Freud and the book of Psalms, and quotes from a range of continental philosophers provide prologue to many episodes. It is an incredibly dense show, unwilling to leave any scientific or relational worldbuilding unexplored.

Odar’s background as a painter infuses each scene with strikingly intentional composition. The camera is unblinking as the show moves at a slow, almost dreamlike pace, whether capturing sordid affairs, brutal murders, or exposition over the physics of black holes. Indebted to the grand myth building of shows like Lost and Twin Peaks, Dark takes lessons from their oft-criticized lack of payoff. A consistent atmosphere is maintained by a steady drip of the dreadful truth replacing each piece of the central mystery, with the endgame always in sight. The solution to the puzzle is revealed early on, but the journey to that point – and what it can reveal about the human experience – remains the greater story.

A Brand New, Broken World

Dark is, at its core, as much about philosophical conflict as it is time-travel and soapy drama. While questions of time, fate, and causality form the grand theater that the show plays in, the heart of the narrative is much more human. Ultimately, Dark is about the experience of navigating generational sin, how the misdeeds of the past can bring pain and suffering through lasting scars and continuing patterns of destruction. The town of Winden is the entire universe of the show, and the most enduring monument to the crimes committed by generations of inhabitants. Beneath the nuclear plant, a system of caves acts as both the catalyst for time travel and a physical manifestation of the town’s dark underbelly. Occasionally we meet characters who have just moved to Winden, but no one escapes. Midway through season one, Katarina, mother of one of the missing children calls into a radio show, her oracle against Winden playing over scenes of small-town life now seen through a newly darkened lens:

“I want people to completely understand what’s going on here. We’re all so blind about this. There’s a murderer here among us. No one actually dares to say it. But it’s the truth. We’re all clinging to the hope that it won’t happen to us. We all know one another. And we think we know those around us. But do we really? We live right next door to people we know nothing about, and behind one of those doors is my son. It could be anyone’s door. The man behind the cash register. Someone we invite for coffee and cake on Sundays, who plays with our children. But I don’t want to look away anymore. And you shouldn’t want to either. This whole town is sick. Winden is like a festering wound, and all of us are a part of it.”  

The sins of the past directly affect every aspect of life in Winden. Fractured relationships within families echo the abuse and addictions that have haunted them for generations, while externally individuals betray the children of those their parents betrayed. Nothing changes, in pattern or substance, even as one generation replaces the next. Institutions, whether educational, political, or clerical, provide no solace for the residents as they continue to be harnessed for selfish motive just as they have throughout Winden’s history. The thin veneer of camaraderie that unites the town decays on screen as the secrets of the past emerge from whispered rumor into the light, setting neighbor against neighbor, daughter against mother, and father against son. 

Dark illustrates two types of this generational sin, the show proudly wearing its existential heritage on its sleeve. Characters moving through time fall into one of two camps. The first, represented by those like Ulrich, travel to the past in attempts to prevent present tragedies. Upon arrival, they face the realization that generations of misdeeds, both theirs and their ancestors, cannot be erased and inevitably haunt their families’ emotional and physical security. Confronted with this absurd and transcendent reality, they shrink into impotence or madness.

The second is represented by the cult-like secret societies of Sic Mundus and Erit Lux that carry out a war waged beyond time. Their founders began on the same path as the others, but answered the absurd directly. Instead of heroic courage, their actions prove to be the inciting incidents behind much of the horror plaguing their modern world. Generational sin is now cast through the lens of eternal recurrence – essentially the concept that all events in history occur repeatedly, in the same sequence, through a never-ending series of cycles. Dark makes this literal, as all of the travelers find themselves fighting the same tragedies not just at different points of time, but failing again and again to change the past and seeing their family and friends torn apart repeatedly by their actions. Trapped in this unending knot, each character operating outside of their native timeline is faced with the disharmony that arises from the apparent meaninglessness of their existence and the futility of their actions, and together represent three unique philosophical responses.

Heroes of the Absurd

As leader of Sic Mundus (which is short for Sic Mundus creatus est, which means “Thus the world was created” in Latin), Adam represents a war against God and time, viewing both as ultimately non-existent concepts which must be dethroned from the human mind. He adopts the view of eternal recurrence advanced by Friedrich Nietzsche – that only through amor fati (love of fate) can the “horrifying and paralyzing” reality of what will happen be embraced, allowing escape through the “creation of novelty”. Corrupted both physically and spiritually by countless attempts to restore order through time travel (his scars serving to conveniently obscure his identity until late in season two), Adam is the embodiment of the Nietzschean “will to power”. In his eyes, only he is strong enough to bend the universe to his will. Winden is sick, and can only be cured through destruction. In the center of the Sic Mundus lodge hangs Peter Paul Ruben’s The Fall of the Damned, Adam viewing himself as the archangel Michael, casting the damned of Winden into the abyss they deserve. For any innocents in the town, non-existence is a more merciful fate than continuing to live in such a world. Judgement and salvation, carried out in the same motion.

Eva, the leader of the Erit Lux (“There will be light” in Latin), is chiefly opposed to Adam, and seeks a different path. Her encounter with the absurd leads her instead to embrace it. There is a radical value to mere existence, any harm from generational sin largely ignored. Chief among the artifacts adorning Erit Lux’s comparatively barren lodge is a detailed mapping carved into the floor of every individual’s role which must be sustained for the cycle to continue. Eva embraces the absurdism articulated by Albert Camus, presupposing a world in which God is already dead and nothing beyond the immanent matters. To Erit Lux, both history and hope represent false idols doomed to disappoint. In this weary world, nothing is promised beyond today, and even the freedom that comes from everyone’s self-determined path to destruction is preferable to the fantasy of salvation. 

There’s an interesting contrast between the absurdism of Camus and the 14th century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich (bear with me for a second). In his essay The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus proclaims about the character that “he too concludes all is well”. This is a bitter statement acknowledging that the world has no master, and that Sisyphus must make his own meaning out of the boulder he eternally pushes. ‘All is well’ because nothing can be any different from how it currently stands. These words are a strange echo of Julian of Norwich’s famous recounting of her 13th vision:

“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion. But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’”

For Julian, all is not well. But it will be. She doesn’t know how or when or why, but Christ will make all things right, and that is enough for faith. Likewise in Dark, Claudia, the last of three travelers who is outside time, accepts that there might be hope outside the knot in which Winden is stuck. She only arrives at this point through desperation, unwilling to perpetuate the cycle of parents and children wronging one another. The same mechanism which brings suffering into the world is the only way to escape it. 

In The Concept of Anxiety, Søren Kierkegaard writes that anxiety is the amoral tension between all possible actions that predates even the knowledge of good and evil in human consciousness. Anxiety made possible Adam and Eva’s leap into their original sins, yet anxiety also makes Claudia’s leap into a faith in a better world possible. Like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard saw the tyranny of fate on human consciousness as a blight to be overcome. However, his solution lay in the ability of anxiety to prepare the human mind for faith “because the anxiety within him has already fashioned fate and has taken away from him absolutely all that any fate could take away”. Claudia’s recognition, that nothing she imagines can be worse than the present cycle imprisoning Winden, provides the catalyst for hope that unhitching from the origin can lead to a better world.

Out of the Caves

Three seasons of wallowing in suffering is draining. There’s a purpose to this pain though, as only in the absence of hope can the vastness of its joy be seen. In a recent interview, artist Elijah Tamu spoke about darkness as being a key to realizing spiritual transcendence, “white light is beautiful, but a world of only white light without differentiation would be no different from a world of darkness… Sometimes darkness is what makes it possible to appreciate and contemplate certain subtleties of light”. For example, the traditional candlelit tenebras service of Good Friday situates the beauty of Christ’s sacrifice alongside both spiritual and physical darkness, making a conscious attempt to draw the modern mundane into viewing a more sacred fullness. Unilluminated by the divine, the inherited suffering of this world can either lead to holding tight to past wrongs and perpetuating injustice on personal and systemic levels, or to redemptive release. 

While Dark cloyingly refuses to acknowledge whether any of the characters truly manage to outwit fate, Odar and Friese make clear that healing of even the deepest hurts begins with the extension of personal grace. Forgiveness of self and others, coupled with sacrifice, literally wipes away any trace of the show’s central sins. The generational patterns are coming undone. The final episode concludes with a dinner party, prior suspicion replaced by true community. As the guests eat by candlelight in a town without power, their final exchange illustrates a place still amid gloom, but no longer hopeless:

Regina: “If the world were to end today, and you only had one wish, what would you wish for?”

Katarina: “A world without Winden. Let’s drink to that.”

All: “A world without Winden.”

[The lights turn back on]

Peter: “Looks like Winden doesn’t want to just disappear.”

Woller: “Maybe it’s for the best.”

~

* “Dragging the Dead on Leashes” is the title of a song by Being As An Ocean

Kevin McGuire is currently a PhD student in the Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma. In his free time, he enjoys both watching and playing basketball, spending too much time on Twitter, and continuing his quest to find the strangest music on the planet.

I Don’t Care Whether You Understand My Movies (Anymore)

By Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan's Next Movie is Getting an IMAX Summer 2020 Release |  IndieWire

There was a time in my life in which I believed it mattered whether the miserable cretins who viewed my films understood what was happening. It was a dark time, reader. I struggled mightily to provide the ill-bred masses with the petty satisfactions they required, employing degrading techniques designed to explain my ingenious, chronologically non-linear plots to even the stupidest of dolts who consumed them.

Yes, reader, I engaged in shameful behavior, lowering my films to the tastes of their basest audiences. I used such abominable devices as “exposition” and “audible dialogue.” I even (forgive me) took the time to write coherent and explanatory endings, designed to fill in whatever points audiences may have missed in their feeble understanding of my sweeping artistic vision. NO MORE! My latest magnum opus, Tenet, is free from such demeaning restraints. 

No longer will I task my considerable genius with “accessibility” or “coherence.” My audiences are, plainly, dumb and worthless, and they will henceforth be treated as such. Of course their feeble minds don’t understand my breathtaking reflections on the nature of time itself, so why should I bother debasing my work for their sake? Don’t understand the intricate workings of Tenet’s time mechanics? Imbecile. Here are some buildings blowing up to satisfy your toddler-esque attention span. Unclear on who a particular character is or where they came from? Too bad, now they’re punching somebody else you’ve never seen before, does that satisfy your infantile lizard brain? Confused by the ending? Not my problem, focus on the big, shiny guns I put in just to entertain idiots like you. Enjoy the flashy lights and shut the hell up. This is cinema. There’s no time to accommodate the dimwits who can’t keep up, I’m making art here. If prolonged landscape shots, car chases of ambiguous purpose, and inexplicable gunfire don’t satisfy your shallow cravings for petty entertainment, I have nothing further to say to you. 

Christopher Nolan is a writer and director. His latest film, Tenet, is in theaters now. 

~

This piece of satire was guest-written by Sam Shideler. Sam is a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, where his academic pursuits are best articulated as “reading, writing, and regarding STEM majors with contempt.” His hobbies include referring to movies as “films,” pretending to understand classical literature, and suffering at the hands of Oklahoma City Thunder basketball.

Indigenous Filmmaking, Satire, and Horror in “Blood Quantum”

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A guest review by John Truden

Editorial Note: Blood Quantum is a 2019 Canadian zombie horror film directed by Jeff Barnaby, a Canadian Mi’kmaq filmmaker. Barnaby’s film is rooted in an Indigenous perspective. It stars Indigenous actors and is a love letter to both classic zombie horror films and to “indignerds,” the self-proclaimed title of Indigenous people who love pop culture. Blood Quantum holds to many of the conventions of the zombie movie genre, along with influence from filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, but its main premise and some of the stylistic choices draw on Jeff Barnaby’s Mi’kmaq context. The following was written by my friend John Truden, who is currently getting his Ph.D. in Indigenous history, to give some context and history, so the film can be more enjoyable and understandable to a non-Indigenous audience. 

Blood Quantum follows the residents of the Red Crow Indian Reservation (a fictional reserve that stands in for many Indigenous communities in North America) who are overtaken by a zombie outbreak. The residents quickly discover that they are immune, but the surrounding white settlers and wildlife are vulnerable to infection.

The 1970 saw the beginning of a renaissance of Indigenous films, or films rooted in the perspectives of Indigenous peoples. That renaissance reached full bloom in the 1990s and has not stopped since. Smoke Signals, a 1998 film that followed the journey of three young people from the Coeur D’alene Reservation in Idaho, became a marker of this growth. Barnaby created Blood Quantum in this context. The film emphasizes community, ties to the land, and grounding in a specific time and place, reflecting precedents set by Indigenous filmmakers.

The film plays with themes of blood and colonialism. It takes the history of settlers who are a threat to Indigenous populations, and puts it within the genre, casting those settlers as zombies who pose the threat to the immune Indigenous population. It’s a theatrical reimagining of very real history (and recent divisions, colonization is not simply a thing of the past). It’s a reversal of what’s called “Settler Colonialism,” a process where people come to a region and re-shape it. In Blood Quantum, instead of settlers coming in and re-shaping the reservation, the Indigenous population is cleansing it. 

Blood quantum itself was a system devised by the United States and Canadian government to slowly eliminate Indigenous populations by essentially assimilating them out of existence. They did this by measuring Indigenous blood and then making it difficult for Indigenous people to marry one another. According to the blood quantum system, if you don’t have a certain amount of Indigenous blood and ancestry you’re not Indigenous, and if you marry a white person, your kid’s blood quantum goes down, making them even more removed from the Indigenous identity. Slowly but surely, entire indigenous bloodlines are erased. The irony of this film then is that these people who are fighting the zombies that have Indigenous ancestry, and that’s what keeps them safe.

The concept of the zombie came to the United States through an effort to explain Haitian independence. In the 1920s the United States occupied the country of Haiti. At this time the United State is in Jim Crow; it’s a white supremacist nation. But in Haiti, the Haitian are resisting and asserting their independence. In order to make sure no Black Americans got any ideas of revolution, journalists and politicians took the Haitian mythology of the zombie and used it to “explain” why the Black people in Haiti are asserting their independence. They depicted Haitians as being brainless and murderous, stupid and violent. This appropriation the zombie erases an important part of Haitian folklore, where the zombie originated somewhere between 1625 to 1800, and “was a projection of the African slaves’ relentless misery and subjugation. Haitian slaves believed that dying would release them back to lan guinée, literally Guinea, or Africa in general, a kind of afterlife where they could be free. Though suicide was common among slaves, those who took their own lives wouldn’t be allowed to return to lan guinée. Instead, they’d be condemned to skulk the Hispaniola plantations for eternity, an undead slave at once denied their own bodies and yet trapped inside them—a soulless zombie” (Mariani). 

In the 1960s, American director George Romero re-used the concept of zombies and turned them into the “undead,” through his films. He turns them into flesh-eating cannibalistic zombies as a stand-in for things. Night of the Living Dead is a critique of American race relations, in a lot of ways. Day of the Dead is a critique of the military-industrial complex. He starts a tradition where the dialogue between the characters is more important than the actual zombies themselves, which is true of this movie. He also sets the precedent of using zombies as other problems. The format is flexible, there’s a lot of different things you can do with a zombie movie. So there is a long canon that Blood Quantum is joining where the zombies stand for thing, usually various social anxieties. Here, the zombies are used to stand in for white settlers, and in this tells a uniquely Indigenous story. 

Blood Quantum is available on Shudder

Sources:

Zombies and Haiti: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0AF1qPSmvhPEjmSE3vEwu7?si=mPNsSf05Qf2kPZeXlSS20A

Mike Mariani: “The Tragic, Forgotten History of Zombies,” for The Atlantic

John Truden is a PhD student in the Department of History at the University of Oklahoma. His dissertation explores Indigenous-settler relationships in a settler-dominated Oklahoma. Upon graduation he would like to take on a full-time collaborative role by teaching at a tribal college. In his free time he enjoys historical research, working alongside marginalized communities, and investing in friendships. 

Top 20 Movies of 2020 (So Far)

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Guest Review by Jonathan Dorst

Many movie theaters are reopening today. For how long, nobody knows, but hopefully for good. I last saw a movie in a theater in early March, so I’m ready (I think) to go back to seeing new releases on the big screen. And there are a number of tantalizing films set to come out in the last four-plus months of this year, including The Personal History of David Copperfield (8/28), Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (9/3), Quiet Place Part II (9/4), I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix 9/4), Antebellum (9/18), Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks (October), David Fincher’s Mank (October), Wonder Woman 1984 (10/2), Trial of the Chicago 7 (10/16), Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch (10/16?), The Courier (10/16), Black Widow (11/6), Pixar’s Soul (11/20), Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (12/18), Coming 2 America (12/18), and Spielberg’s West Side Story (12/18).

But, if you think there haven’t been any good movies that have been released up to this point in 2020, you haven’t been paying attention. Some came out before the pandemic, some went to streamers or VOD when theaters were not an option, and some were released as planned through a streamer. One note: Although some multi-episode documentaries (like OJ: Made In America) have won Oscars and been considered a ‘feature,’ I chose not to include them on this list, so Tiger King and The Last Dance would be part of a top television list instead. One more note: As always, don’t take the inclusion of a film as a blanket endorsement of its content; you are responsible to research the content and determine if certain movies are appropriate for you.

20. Bad Education– Hugh Jackman shows off his versatility in this telling of a true story of embezzlement in the public school system.

19. Radioactive– A good biopic that makes the interesting decision to show the downside (in jarring flash-forwards) of the protagonist’s historical contribution.

18. Downhill– A not-as-good-as-the-original remake of a very good Danish film, still Will Farrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus give good performances in this serious comedy.

17. The Truth– A bit of a cliched premise about an actress mother and her flawed relationship with her daughter, but it’s Juliette Binoche and Catherine Denueve, so it’s a must see.

16. Tigertail– A thoughtful film that tells the story of an immigrant’s struggle to connect in his new land while reconciling what he’s lost back in his homeland.

15. The Vast of Night– An interesting, slow-burn of a film about strange happenings in the sky in New Mexico in the 50’s that I suspect will get better with repeated viewings.

14. Arkansas– A minor, but enjoyable entry in the ‘loveable loser drug dealer’ genre; Liam Hemsworth is terrific playing against type.

13. The Invisible Man– An effective thriller that is a not-too-subtle metaphor for the psychological oppression that powerful men can administer on women.

12. The Old Guard– A superhero film that takes consequences seriously.

11. Da 5 Bloods– Spike Lee’s exploration of the Vietnam War and its effects, as well as his continued exploration of America’s racial history- the acting is great, but the tone and pacing is all over the place.

10. Young Ahmed– The Dardenne brothers’ latest about a young teenaged boy being influenced by a radical Islamic imam.

9. To the Stars– A movie about small-town Oklahoma in the ‘50s that tells the age-old tale of the shy, bullied kid who gets courage from the extroverted, courageous friend, but with some twists that keep it fresh.

8. Ordinary Love– Two great actors (Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson) telling a slice-of-life story that made me want to watch more of their life together.

7. Palm Springs– A very funny take on the Groundhog Day premise that doesn’t quite earn its happy ending but is still very memorable and enjoyable.

6. Athlete A– The emotional story of how USA Gymnastics failed to protect its female gymnasts from predators like Larry Nassar.

5. The Assistant– A day in the life of an administrative assistant who serves her unnamed boss in a Weinstein-like film production company; we see how powerful men got away with so much for so long as we watch her try to raise a red flag in an atmosphere where no one is motivated to change anything.

4. The Trip To Greece– The 4th film in the ‘Trip’ series, this is the most poignant as Rob and Steve follow in the footsteps of Odysseus and ponder their mortality. 

3. Driveways– A beautiful film about people in different stages of life connecting and making the best of their situation.

2. Sorry We Missed You- British filmmaker Ken Loach has been making great social commentary films for a long time, and this one takes aim at companies taking advantage of workers in this ‘gig economy’ while telling an affecting story of a family trying to thrive, or at least survive.

1. Hamilton– I know this really came out as a musical in 2015, but it’s not the first play to be filmed and released as a movie (consider Bergman’s The Magic Flute and Powell’s The Tales of Hoffman), and everything about this production is just. so. good.

Bonus: Worst Movie of the Year (so far, that I’ve seen)- Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey

Movies for Holy Week

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By Jonathan Dorst

Holy Week is the highlight of the Christian calendar, the week when the church remembers and dramatizes the events between Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) and His resurrection (Easter). In addition to the two Sundays, many churches celebrate Maundy-Thursday, the night when Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples (see John 13-17), and Good Friday, the day when Jesus was crucified and laid in the tomb.

2020 will be a year that will be remembered for many things, but one very sad thing we’ll remember is not being able to be together, as the church, during Holy Week. So, we’ll do the next best thing: worship together by ourselves or with our immediate families. Along with reading the Scriptures, watching worship livestreams, and singing worship songs together, allow me to recommend some movies for you to watch.

Some of these movies were made by Christians, and others were not. Some are direct dramatizations of the biblical events, while others are only symbolic of the events. But, all are worth pondering, I think. They’re listed in alphabetical order by event, three each.

Maundy-Thursday

Babette’s Feast (PG)- A beautiful story about a religious community that is brought together by a sacrificial, but extravagant, meal.

Chocolat (PG-13)- This one’s a little bit of a stretch, but part of Jesus’ message to His disciples at the Last Supper is “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” While Juliette Binoche’s Vianne is not necessarily a Christian role model, she does bring joy and feasting to a legalistic, pharisaical town.

Jesus of Nazareth (PG)- The 1979 TV movie is a pretty faithful rendering of Jesus’ life, including a good scene of the Last Supper. You might need to make this a multi-night watch- it’s 6 hours and 22 minutes (or you could just watch the Last Supper scene on YouTube).

Good Friday

The Iron Giant (PG)- A visitor from out of this world sacrifices himself to make peace on earth.

The Passion of the Christ (R)- This movie does a good job of telling the story of the crucifixion in a visceral way, but what it doesn’t get (and maybe no movie could get) is that the hardest part of Jesus’ suffering was not the physical pain, but the spiritual pain that came from being separated by the Father and becoming sin for us.

War For the Planet of the Apes (PG-13)- The whole trilogy is a parallel to Moses’ story in Exodus, but this last movie casts Caesar as a Christ figure, sacrificing himself to bring his community to free his people.

Easter

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe- I personally love the animated 1979 version (PG), as it is the most faithful to the book, but the 2005 version (PG) will do in a pinch.

Risen (PG-13)- The resurrection told through the eyes of a Roman solder tasked with investigating the case of a missing dead body.

The Tree of Life (PG-13)- As a meditation on the book of Job that is told mainly through visuals, we follow a family grieving the loss of a son/brother until, like Job prophesied (Job 19:25-26), they experience a bodily resurrection.

 

(Originally published at https://www.riveroakstulsa.com/blog/post/movies-for-holy-week)

A Passover Story: A Guide to the Symbolism of “Uncut Gems”

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By Jonathan Dorst

The book of Exodus in the Old Testament is a story of two types of people and two ways of living. The first type of person and lifestyle is represented by Pharaoh in his drive to build bigger and bigger buildings and work his (Jewish) slaves seven days a week (Exodus 1:14) to produce the marvels of Egypt. The other type of person and lifestyle is represented by Yahweh God in His desire to have a (Jewish) people who are defined by their just and loving relationships to one another and their ability to rest (Exodus 20:10).

The dramatic highlight of the book is when God brings about a series of ten plagues upon Egypt to convince Pharaoh to let His people out of their slavery. When, nine plagues in, Pharaoh is still resolute in not allowing the Israelites to leave, God finally unleashes His angel of death to kill every firstborn son in Egypt. While the Egyptian families are devastated, the Israelite families are spared by spreading blood over the doorways of their homes, signaling to the angel to pass over their homes.

In Uncut Gems, the new film from (Jewish) filmmakers Josh & Benny Safdie, we see a man torn between these two ways of living and unsure of what type of person he wants to be. Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a (Jewish) jewelry store owner who, from the beginning of the film, is working overtime to pay off his gambling debts at the same time that he’s trying to find the money to place his next big bet. As we follow him through a series of failures and new ideas, we find ourselves exhausted at the energy Howard must put forth to build his empire, try to satisfy both his family and his mistress, and keep ahead of his creditors and their goons. The Safdies do a great job of keeping the tension ratcheted up at an almost unsustainable pace.

In the middle of the film, however, we are treated to a peaceful scene that happens in the home of Howard’s father-in-law. His extended family is celebrating Passover together and we watch as they go through the motions of the traditional meal, at one point having Howard name each of the plagues- blood, frogs, gnats, locusts, etc…- while dipping a finger in their wine and throwing it on their plates. This Passover ceremony is a snapshot of the film as a whole, as we follow Howard, the materialist who can’t stop working to achieve, through close call after close call (plague after plague), hoping that he’ll finally stop making bad decisions and begin valuing relationships over money before he gets to his own final plague. While the film doesn’t go as literal as the 1999 film Magnolia, with its frogs raining from the sky, it does still clearly give us visual hints of the plagues, as when a character pours red Gatorade into Howard’s fish tank (Exodus 7:20-21).

One of the key images in the film is the door to Howard’s jewelry shop. This door, with bulletproof glass windows, automatically locks so that people can only get in after someone inside the shop buzzes them in. Halfway through the film, however, the door starts to get stuck, and after using a hammer to try to jolt it into working, Howard uses some metal shavings above the door to get it to open. Without giving away spoilers, the dramatic highlight of the movie comes when the shavings above the door are swept away and a literal bringer of death is summoned through the door.

Whereas Moses, the human protagonist of Exodus, “[chose] rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:24-25), Howard simply has to choose to slow down and live the rich life he already has. At certain moments, as when he is talking to his wife and daughter, Howard gets close to giving up his greedy schemes and settling in to a restful contentment with the good life he already has. But, ultimately, he is seduced by the way of empire, the way of Pharaoh and every other world builder whose avarice is unlimited, believing that that way of life is the best way to be truly alive. And we know, as we watch his folly, that there must be a better way of living- that our hearts were made for relationship, and the God who wants our hearts also gives us the rest that we need.

Check out more of Jonathan’s reviews at:

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/chorusinthechaos/author/jonathandorst/

My Top 40 Films of the Decade

By Jonathan Dorst

The decade spanning 2010-2019 was a great decade for film. It saw many new, ethnically diverse, voices behind the camera, such as Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, Jordan Peele, Taika Waititi, Ryan Coogler, Asghar Farhadi, Alex Garland, and Damien Chazelle, as well as veteran directors like Terrence Malick, Christopher Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alexander Payne, and the Dardennes doing their thing. The rise of Netflix and Amazon gave a greenlight to many good films that would have never seen the light of day in a market increasingly intolerant to anything not franchise or horror-related. The rise of Movie Pass and other subscription services (I love being an AMC A-Lister, I have to say) proved that traditional theaters have a lot of avenues still to explore before ceding to the streaming services. Who knows what the upcoming 20’s will bring (hopefully not a stock market crash like the last century’s 20’s brought), but I can’t wait to see the stories that will be told on the big screen in the future.

Here is my list. It was very hard to whittle down to 40. If I’d kept going to 50, I would have included some combination of the following: In a Better World, Mud, Shoplifters, Beautiful Boy (2010), The Social Network, Birdman, Silence, The Lobster, The Salesman, The Big Short, The Mill and the Cross, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Hugo, A Separation, 12 Years a Slave, The Witch, Eighth Grade, Take Shelter, Frances Ha, Arrival, and The Light Between Oceans.

  1. The Tree of Life– a profound exploration of life and death, and the grace, pain, and beauty in between. More of my thoughts here.
  2. Whiplash– an intoxicating look at the thin line between pushing someone towards greatness and pushing them too far.
  3. Inception– a retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur, as well as a sly commentary on film creation, this movie has big ideas and still works as an action/heist film.
  4. The Past (2013)- we may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us, and reliving it is sometimes as hard as seeing through a rain-splashed windshield.
  5. Another Year– a touching, grounded look at the effect of a loving married couple and the normal, everyday kindness they show to those around them.
  6. Ex Machina– a retelling of the creation story in Genesis mixed with the standard, but piercing, questions that good sci-fi asks about humanity and artificial intelligence.
  7. Fences– a character drama that asks the questions, what is a life well-lived, and what do we owe one another in the midst of the struggles of life? Read more of what I thought here.
  8. Parasite– one of the best commentaries on class that works on so many different levels.
  9. The Kid With a Bike– I am just a sucker for the Dardenne Brothers’s style of storytelling- dropping you in the middle of a person’s life and giving you a compassionate view of their struggles without the paint-by-numbers plot or explanatory dialogue. This is one of their best films.
  10. Manchester By the Sea– not all tragedies end in understanding, not all pain gets healed; life is more complex than that, and this movie gets that in a profound way.
  11. Get Out– a tale about the commodification of black bodies and the fear implicit in finding out that even your allies don’t always have your best interest in mind.
  12. Marriage Story– a truthful, though not unhopeful, story that reminds us that dissolving a marriage is like pulling off a band-aid and realizing there’s a gaping wound there.
  13. Annihilation– a study in self-destruction with a great cast and solid sci-fi scenario.
  14. August Osage County– I’ve known dysfunctional families, where sometimes the only reason they see each other is out of duty, and this film’s characters rang true.
  15. Baby Driver– the best movie of one of our best working directors, Edgar Wright. You can read my thoughts on it here.
  16. Hell or High Water– a dudes’ movie, eminently rewatchable, with a great relationship between the two brothers at its core.
  17. L’Attesa– a film that boasts beautiful compositions and Juliette Binoche’s eyes which express so much grief and emotion. You can read what I wrote about it here.
  18. The Unknown Girl– a compassionate look at the question of what responsibility we have towards our neighbors who might be strangers.
  19. Us- a reminder that the line between the haves and have-nots is a lot thinner than most of us think.
  20. A Hidden Life– you can read my thoughts on Malick’s second best film here.
  21. Phantom Thread- a story about a controlling man changed by a woman is also a story about how love upsets our carefully laid plans, and is also a story about accepting death.
  22. Her– the truth at the bottom of this tale is spot on- we lose a lot when we substitute disembodied relationships for real relationships.
  23. The Immigrant– a criminally ignored work of art from the great James Gray; Marion Cottillard is brilliant.
  24. Inside Out– Pixar is operating on a different level from any other animation studio, and this is my favorite Pixar; all parents & would-be parents need to see this.
  25. Selma– a biopic that sidesteps the great-man-singlehandedly-changes-history fallacy and presents a rather balanced and insightful view of the period.
  26. Certified Copy– one couple experiences their whole relationship in a day, is what I think happened in this mysterious, but thoughtful film.
  27. Before Midnight– the realistic and hopeful conclusion to a wonderful trilogy about relationships; if Before Sunrise ponders what might be; Before Sunset, what could or should be; Before Midnight ponders what is.
  28. Hunt for the Wilderpeople– a family favorite, maybe the most re-watchable movie on this list.
  29. The Last Black Man in San Francisco– a mournful but playful look at gentrification, displacement, and the longing for home.
  30. Brooklyn– Brooklyn- a more romantic view of immigration than The Immigrant, but a thoughtful story with wonderful performances, particularly by Saoirse Ronan.
  31. Lady Bird– growing up is hard, and having your kid grow up is even harder.
  32. Spotlight– a somber, piercing look at one of the worst systemic crimes and cover ups the world has ever seen.
  33. Black Panther– if Wakanda is a stand-in for America, this is a thoughtful exploration of foreign policy with the background of America’s racial scars.
  34. First Reformed– what does God want from us personally when it comes to global issues like environmental catastrophe?
  35. The Act of Killing– a shocking documentary that reminds you that evil is banal and especially easy to encourage when a government sanctions it.
  36. Nebraska– a film that makes more sense the older you get. Bruce Dern forever.
  37. Ida– how much of your life is based on your parent’s religion and nationality, and how much would your life change if you found out those things were much different than you thought?
  38. Moonlight– a very honest (and cinematic) look at what life might be like growing up without love.
  39. Jiro Dreams of Sushi- a profound meditation on the beauty of work and the pursuit of excellence.
  40. Avengers: Age of Ultron– my daughter (the Madeleine who loves movies) opened my eyes to all that Joss Whedon had going on under the surface in this film, even if much of it didn’t pay off with future directors veering from Whedon’s vision.

Check out more of Jonathan’s reviews at:

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/chorusinthechaos/author/jonathandorst/

Quiet Faithfulness and Courageous Resistance in “A Hidden Life”

Guest review by Jonathan Dorst

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In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul lays out a general principle of Christian citizenship: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 

But, what about when the governing authority is the Third Reich, a government intent on ridding the world of all who are not of the ‘Aryan race’? Did Paul mean for the people of Germany and Austria during the Nazi regime to quietly fall in line and never put up a resistance? 

Interestingly, just a few verses after the opening verses of Romans 13, Paul writes, “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” (Rm 13:5). Why would he mention the conscience if he intended for obedience to be automatic? And, to further complicate (or, depending on your perspective, to further balance) things, how does one reconcile Paul’s later admonition to keep the 10 Commandments as the law of love, and that “Love does no wrong to a neighbor”? (Rm 13:10).  

These are the moral questions that director Terrence Malick is asking in his latest film, A Hidden Life. The film is a portrait of a real-life conscientious objector, Franz Jägerstätter, a Catholic Austrian farmer who refused to serve the cause of Hitler and the Nazi Party during World War II. Much like the more well-known figure, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran pastor who was actually part of an assassination plot to kill Hitler), Jägerstätter finds the courage to resist from his faith. 

This is Terrence Malick’s ninth feature film, spanning five decades that began with 1973’s Badlands. It is his best film since 2011’s The Tree of Life and his most accessible (and most linear) film since 1978’s Days of Heaven. All of Malick’s trademark stylistic touches are present in A Hidden Life: gently rolling Steadicam, an emphasis on the beauty of nature, a compassionate gaze towards his subjects, limited dialogue with much of the story told through visuals, voiceover, and a judicious use of classical music. But, whereas, some of Malick’s recent films have felt almost like a parody of his style (I’m looking at you, Song to Song), here his style is perfectly suited for the patient viewer to truly contemplate the difficulty of Franz’s choices, and by implication, the experience of all conscientious objectors who are made to be martyrs. 

A Hidden Life brings to mind the classic 1966 film A Man For All Seasons, as well as the more recent Silence (2016) and Hacksaw Ridge (2016), and, to some degree, Braveheart (1995). What those films accomplish through dialogue and confrontations, Malick accomplishes through quiet interactions and visual symbols. And like A Man for All Seasons and Silence, the character of God is questioned even as the duty of men is at the forefront. When a priest in A Hidden Life says, “God only cares about the heart,” we have to ask ourselves whether God is a pragmatic, ends-justifies-the-means kind of deity, or whether He calls us to a radical obedience in both body and soul.  

While we have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight of what the proper response to Hitler should have been, there’s no doubt that our choices would have been immeasurably harder had we lived in the uncertainty of the time before Hitler was defeated. The best movies call us to confront our own character and beliefs, and A Hidden Life gives us the gifts of time and story to help us ask ourselves who we are and who we might be when put in an impossible situation. It’s one of the best films of the year and one of the best uses of three hours that I spent all year. 

Check out more of Jonathan’s reviews at:

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/chorusinthechaos/author/jonathandorst/

Hobbs and Shaw ft. Clifton Raphael

IMG_4353.jpegFrom left to right: Hobbs, Idris Elba’s White Doppelgänger, and Shaw

I am excited to be joined for this review by my former six-time teacher, Clifton Raphael. Mr. Raphael teaches screenwriting and filmmaking and film studies at Jenks High School. He has 24 years of experience in TV broadcasting and an MFA in screenwriting and film studies from Hollins University. His students have won two $5,000 grand prizes in the C-Span StudentCam documentary competition (the only school to have repeat grand prize winners), a regional Emmy, and thousands of dollars in other C-SPAN, YoungArts and Scholastic Arts awards. His class also has the first high-school produced program on OETA (Oklahoma’s PBS affiliate). Mr. Raphael has been a judge for numerous film festivals and competitions, has been interviewed on C-SPAN, and sits on the Board of Directors at Circle Cinema. You can watch his students’ films here.

He has been a great influence in my life and has always championed my work with his brand of tough-love, sacrificial dedication, earnest support, and occasional mockery. It’s about time he got to be featured here. 

Full disclosure: Neither of us have seen any of The Fast and the Furious films, but we believe this makes us uniquely suited to reviewing its spinoff, Hobbs and Shaw. He, as a film connoisseur, and me, as someone who likes things that go vroom vroom. 

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Madeleine: Can you describe the events of this film in two sentences or less?

Clifton Raphael: Two guys learn to love each other in order to save the world. 

Perfect. But that’s only one sentence. 

Okay, so there’s a virus that could kill supposedly all the weakest people in the world, and there’s some benevolent force that wants this done. So Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) have to get together to find this woman, Shaw’s sister (played by Vanessa Kirby), and they have to get this virus that is implanted in her out and save her and save the world. 

Beautiful. 

It’s my understanding that you took a screenwriting class in high school. [He is referring to the class that Madeleine took with him.]

Why yes I did. 

And I understand there’s a thing called a character arc, where a character changes throughout the course of the story. How did these characters change? What character arcs did they go through in this movie?

Okay so first they didn’t like each other, right? ‘Cause Hobbs and Shaw have clashing egos and insecurities. 

Right. 

And then in the middle they don’t like each other, because they’re working together but they just… still, don’t, because of the previously mentioned issues. And then at the end, they still don’t really like each other and then in the last five minutes they realize that if they work together they can punch the living daylights out of the villain, and then the movie will end, so then they like each other. 

But then they sort of… don’t like each other. 

Right, they still don’t like each other. They like to neg one another. It’s their love language. 

What else did this movie do really well screenwriting wise?

You know it sets up a very clear “want” and “need.” The characters want to not need each other. 

But then they need to need each other!

Exactly! The film and screenplay also makes great use of character motivations that tie into the theme. Cause the theme is that tech- no, actually the first theme is family, because everyone needs a family. Second, the theme is that humans always beat technology. 

Yes, and actually I’m going to quote the movie. I wrote it down because [pulls out phone] it was such an amazing line [he says with the utmost sarcasm]. 

You were on your phone during the movie?!

Whoops, please don’t tell anyone.

That line is the thesis of the film. 

It’s delivered by the Rock. This is up there with Dorothy’s “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” and “Here’s looking at you, kid.” This will go into the immortal words of great lines.

And his Oscar reel. 

So he says, “You may believe in machines, but we believe in people.”

Boom!

Boom.

Idris Elba’s villain character lets go of his humanity for the pursuit of human evolution through technology, and Hobbs and Shaw use technology throughout the film but the thing is, underneath all of that technology, they’re still just guys who want to get down to their roots and just, [slams hands together] beat the living crap out of each other with their fists. 

That’s right. 

They don’t like the guns, they just use the guns, so that’s why they can say that.

 Let’s talk about Vanessa Kirby’s character. 

Right. What has she been in?

Mission Impossible franchise. And The Crown TV show. 

I was encouraged to see- and I think we’re seeing more and more of this in movies-  that she could hold her own with the men, in terms of the absolutely ridiculous things she was capable of doing. And it’s interesting to me, there’s this whole new trend of women in movies being in these positions of pulling off what would normally be considered “tough guy” roles or missions. So that’s pretty encouraging.

I agree that it is nice that she gets fight sequences and gets the same “cool” treatment as the guys. But what I really want to get to is the agency of her character. It looks like, from the surface, she has a big role. She’s in it a lot, and she has the main plot-

I see where you’re going with this, it’s that the guys still need to take care of her and save her because the woman has the virus injected into her.

Yes, but it’s more than that if you look at what she contributes to the film. Okay so first, she’s a Mcguffin. She literally has the MacGuffin virus in her. But there are only two scenes- I was keeping track- where she does something that advances the plot and changes the events of the film. In all of the other scenes, she either puts up a fight but the result is still the same as if she was, like, a lamp, or she contributes but they would have gotten to that place without her. Or, she’s literally picked up and carried to the next plot point. 

She doesn’t have the same level of narrative agency as the other leads, which is still a huge flaw if you’re really breaking the film down. I think that is something to consider because on the surface it looks like the movie is all, [does jazz hands] Oh yeah! Women! It’s important to interrogate these films that are so self-congratulatory about their “progress.”  I’m concerned that if we don’t, movies will keep barreling forward towards this faux-empowerment direction without any real substance, not changing the basic ingredients of these films in this genre. 

Yeah…baby steps? I don’t know. 

The fact that she’s in it is positive because she has cool fight sequences and she’s pulling her weight, but there’s a way to go, and I don’t want the film to pat itself on the back for, you know,  advancing that feminist agenda. 

[Contemplative silence is briefly kept]

You know, one of the criticisms of the latest Tarantino movie (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and a criticism in his other movies too, is that some of his violence is so exaggerated that you end up laughing at it. So are you then diminishing the impact of violence by doing that? Now this film isn’t as explicitly violent. People get hit a lot but you don’t see them necessarily die.

That’s the thing. We know they die. In real life, they would die, so it sure does undercut the idea of “you believe in technology but we believe in people,” when from the first scene, which is to establish how cool they are, to the last scene, Hobbs and Shaw are absolutely brutalizing people. Everyone who’s not a main character is completely dehumanized, they are props. And you’re supposed to laugh and enjoy these guys completely destroying people and yet at the very end, switcheroo because Dwayne Johnson has a daughter and Jason Statham has a sister, which kinda dehumanizes them as props too. They use the shorthand of, “he has a daughter, he’s human,” so they have to put no effort into anything.

You’re right. But you know, this is a trope of these kinds of movies. I remember this very well from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, that the movie established very early on that Tom Cruise is divorced and he’s got a daughter he has to take care of. Movies always have something that is trying to humanize them-

To make these protagonists relatable to the audience.

Even though you don’t have to do that to me for a movie like this, because I already relate to the idea of running cars off bridges and pulling helicopters out of the sky with my bare hands, these are the things I do on a daily basis [both laugh]. But I can understand for most people you would need to have a humanizing moment. Yet it makes it so that it’s not the pulling helicopter out of the sky moments that are hard to believe; it’s the human moments that are hard to believe. 

I don’t like to think that blockbuster filmmaking is useless, or it doesn’t mean anything, because I think it taps into the cultural zeitgeist, and what people expect of themselves and media more than any other genre. I want there to be a redeeming quality to Hobbs and Shaw that reflects our society, or humanity, or Hollywood. Do you think there’s any of that there? A redeeming quality for why people should go see it?

I suppose redeeming quality is that whole, “I have stresses and problems in my life, but they aren’t the problems of having to face ten guys with really, really tough weapons and 18 cars coming at me, and ‘look out, the bridge is out!’”

Wait, you’re saying this is an exercise in gratitude? 

[Laughs] Gratitude? Well, that’s not what I meant, but that whole escapism thing and wanting to go to something mindless. But seriously, we’re Americans, do we really put our minds to things that much? Are we really overstressing ourselves with the intelligence needed for our regular lives? But still, I can understand the desire to see something mindless. I’m the first person to go see any new monster movie that comes out- and I’m not talking about horror, I’m talking about like Godzilla or like Kong: Skull Island– because I grew up fascinated by those monsters. And then I’m one of the first people disappointed, wondering why I went to go see it, yet I will see the very next one. 

Is there anything you would want to tell the makers of Fast and Furious that they should do differently?

Well, I would definitely go if Godzilla is in the next one. 

The most ambitious crossover event of all time! Is there another movie that you would recommend that is less taxing on the brain but smarter than this one that’s out right now?

I liked Booksmart, and Long Shot, that’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. Probably just those two. You?

I can’t just give that information away, people have to read my review to find out! So we’re giving Hobbs and Shaw a free pass?

I’m giving it a free pass.

Nooo, we’re just giving it a free pass. 

It’s true.

The low expectations have gotten to us.

But seriously what they could do differently? Just, cleverer stuff? But I think they’re wearing out on that.

There’s only so far a car can go. 

I don’t know if we can improve the franchise in this discussion. I guess we’ll have to do that after we see the next one!

The next one? There’s going to be a sequel to this review? 

There’s always a sequel. 

-Madeleine D.