I’ve been randomly catching up on new movies because it’s that time of year.
The period when a bunch of award-worthy and/or star driven prestige films get released either at the box office or via streaming platforms.
It sort of starts a bit in September then increases, in earnest, once November and December roll around.
There are lots of reasons for this, and I could go on about them. But at this point…
Who really cares???
Technology is in the midst of changing how we view everything and it’s anyone’s guess where this is all going.
It’s not even a far-reach to suggest that within this century movie theatres will be obsolete and we will be viewing the latest film via a chip portal implanted within our brains that you can buy on Amazon at the low cost of $29.99 per year.
The catch is every studio will have it’s own portal and by the time you’re done you will have so many chips and holes in your head that they (Note: Whoever THEY are) will charge you as much as $2999.99 annually to view everything sans commercials.
Though judging from the handful of new 2022 movies I’ve been sampling lately, as well as my experience as a still chip/portal free human on this planet, one reality won’t change.
Like Cats, we will now and forever be inundated with films about….
FAMILY. FAMILY. FAMILY. FAMILY. FAMILY. FAMILY.
You can’t get away from them. Literally.
Drama, comedy, horror, kid friendly, romance, action – it doesn’t matter. The family WILL endure be it frighteningly awful, wonderfully fantastic or, more than likely, somewhere in between.
Despite whatever cynical sensibilities popular culture tries selling us, we don’t ever tire of reflecting on or grappling with what it means to be a member of either our born into or chosen tribes.
It shows up consistently in the majority of new movies and is one of the only perennial go-to subjects for filmmakers to this day (Note: Whether they admit it or not). And we, their audience, will be drawn in no matter what the packaging is (Note: And it is especially varied) in the last few weeks of this year.
To whit: Three extremely different but much anticipated new, ahem, family films available, or about to become available —
Right after this profound quote from the forever wise, and seemingly familial, Gloria Steinem:
Happy or unhappy, families are all mysterious. We have only to imagine how differently we would be described – and will be, after our deaths – by each of the family members who believe they know us.
Ugh. Why is she always right?
The Fabelmans – The most obvious choice for family memoir but not the most obvious story. You might think you know all about Steven Spielberg from his movies and gazillion interviews but this is the just slightly fictionalized version of what formed him that we could never have imagined on our own.
It’s fascinating to watch someone who is the most commercially successful director in film history, as well as one of the more critically acclaimed, so openly sort out his, stuff, before our eyes.
Sure, there’s a bit of a dramatic pullback here and there but seeing how Spielberg remembers his somewhat bipolar, artistic mother and his stoic and slightly removed genius father work out their emotional infidelities with their kids as voyeuristic hostages, provides a compelling narrative that shouldn’t really work as well as it ultimately does.
Some of this might be due to the director himself, who has always known how to squeeze supersized movie moments out of even the most mundane of people. Though with the help of co-writer and frequent collaborator Tony Kushner, his family becomes much more than that.
Yes, there’s just enough dysfunction, betrayal, anti-Semitism, disappointment and heartbreak, told Spielberg style, for the film to get by without becoming a for the ages contemporary version of a Bergman movie (Note: Of course, I would have REALLY like to have seen that). But there’s a limit to how bare-boned he is going to get, and, more importantly, how bare-boned you really want him to be.
So what makes his most personal family film bold and true and exactly right is the story of how the director became the Spielberg who changed movies and our worldview of them. He was given the tools at an early age as the oldest white male child of upper middle class privilege; encouraged a lot, or enough, to persevere with movie making through some bad times as a way to heal both himself and his family; had an insane obsession with movies his closest relatives happily colluded with; and came from parents who were each quite brilliant in their respective fields.
Combine the inventive mechanical genius of his father with the aching, emotional concert level piano playing of his mother and what you get is the alchemy behind a kind of once in a generation talent in any chosen field. The obstacles were there, but his destiny feels inevitable. The time period of the fifties and sixties had drawbacks for nerdy Jewish boys but we know deep down they won’t be insurmountable. And the ongoing love, if not always understanding he received from those closest to him in adolescence had a price but never one that was completely soul crushing, even if in one instance it comes close.
If you ever wondered why Spielberg and his films are the way that they are, well, it’s all there. Or at least his version of it, told in a much more imperfect way than you might have imagined he ever would.
The Whale – Director Darren Aronofsky saw playwright Samuel D. Hunter’s play about a morbidly obese online English teacher eating himself to death almost a decade ago and worked with him to turn it into a movie.
The Whale is probably one of the most difficult films you could choose to watch this season but with Brendan Fraser it has one of the finest lead performances you will see all year. At its heart it is really a movie about the effect one’s actions have on those they consider to be their adult family, e.g. a spouse, a child, a lover, a good friend, and how every choice we make in life can reverberate a thousand fold towards our loved ones whether we like it or not.
I was incredibly moved and momentarily mentally destroyed watching the tenderness and selfish determination Fraser brought to this role, as well as amazed by the choice of Aronofsky to tell this story as a horror film crossed with a family drama.
It all worked for me, and then some, which is why I’m thoroughly confused by the thus far mixed critical response to The Whale. Its hyper real, hyperactive presentation of a bad situation growing horrifically worse is not for the faint of heart. But nothing about it is exploitative, apologetic or facile.
If we accept that we humans, especially members of the same family, are alternately, selfish, loving, hateful and understanding/not understanding towards each other, and most especially ourselves, The Whale has quite a bit to offer as an exploration of the human psyche.
What happens when life happens and you can no longer live up to the rigorous requirements of the world, of those closest to you (Note: If there are any still left) and, mostly, of yourself? How will it end for those of us who can’t hack it? Is there grace, or at least some fleeting moment, or moments, of redemption?
Sure, it’s melodramatic. Duh. It’s supposed to be. This is not hyper reality. It’s a movie movie in tone and execution that challenges us not to look away and dismiss that which we do not want to see because it’s too emotional, illogical or uncomfortable. And there are far too few of them these days.
Nope – Jordan Peele’s movies are nothing if not imperfectly strange and imaginative. Nope debuted in theatres this summer and was available on streaming platforms in September. I didn’t catch up with it until a week ago and, as usual I found what he was serving up confounding yet impossible to dismiss.
The thing with Peele, like all interesting filmmakers, is either you accept him on his own terms and look beyond your expectations or you don’t. I often can’t go all the way but there is something about what he imagines that makes me come back for more with each subsequent film.
He’s like the crazy uncle I want to relate to yet always feels just out of reach. He starts a conversation at a family gathering and I initially find him the most dynamic person in the room but somewhere along the way he loses me and I go back into the kitchen to help my mom with the food because there are other people at the party who are a much better audience than myself.
For all its sci-fi elements of flying saucers, dusty southern California desert landscapes and the vagaries of those in the entertainment industry seeking fame and fortune that they can never hold on to, Nope is essentially a family story.
A brother and sister have inherited a multi-generation family ranch/business that trains and provides animals for commercials, TV and film. One loves the biz, the other is lukewarm but deep down they love each other despite a perennial lack of understanding of where each is coming from.
They want something real for themselves but they’ve been put in a box by the world and have been generationally walled off from too many upwardly mobile opportunities because of their heritage and the ways in which their family and the world, in this case, Hollywood, has always worked.
Little do they know that when a somewhat supernatural opportunity uniquely presents itself to them, it will be the beginning of a road that has the potential to set things right personally, if not professionally.
That’s about all you need to know if you haven’t seen it, except that even when it doesn’t work at all it does seem to be working on another level. That is not unlike every continuous family dynamic we’ve ever seen. Even when we don’t fully get what’s going on, we’ve invested to stick around just long enough to know what will happen to each of these people at the end of the road.
So much family, wanted and unwanted. And so little time.