Written & Directed by Lee Isaac Chung
I personally find the American Dream to be a complete fantasy, and it basically always was. This fantasy of bootstrap independence leading to wealth & success is a myth. People achieve wealth in the United States on the backs of workers who toil for very little. Now, this is what our culture labels as “success,” but I would that most of us know that the acquisition of money, while definitely alleviating stress tied to providing for our families, crosses a line at some point into exploitation. I would like to define success as creating a life collectively with family and friends. But for so many native-born people and immigrants, the allure of that capitalist myth is so strong they get lost in it and become consumed.
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Written & Directed by Chloe Zhao
It’s tempting to single out 2020 as an exceptionally rough year, but I argue that life for millions of people has been a generational cycle of struggle for as long as anyone can remember. The United States is caught in a cycle of economic recessions that batter people working in the industrial & service industries worse and worse. Writer Jessica Bruder detailed the American subculture of older workers who live in a perpetual state of migration, taking rough menial seasonal labor while living out of RVs and vans. This community first gained prominence in the wake of the 2008 recession, which saw swaths of homeowners losing their homes due to inhumane business practices. Her book details these people’s tragedies and triumphs breaking their backs to make ends meet and keep traveling up the road to the next spot. Most importantly, it highlights how American corporations have made this migrant labor a key component in their business model.
Continue reading “Movie Review – Nomadland”
Written by Steve McQueen & Alastair Siddons
Directed by Steve McQueen
The summer of 2020 was a season marked by the continued spread of COVID-19 and a massive civil unrest movement that came out of a reaction to the state-sanctioned murders of a growing number of Black people in America. What followed in major cities across the country were all-out police riots with hordes of uniformed officers revealing what brutal thugs they indeed were. The media narrative pushed was that there were riots, but in hundreds of videos released across social media, anyone could see that these attacks from police were made on peaceful demonstrators who were being very direct about their thought on law enforcement in America. Steve McQueen reminds us that this is not merely an American phenomenon or even something specific to our point in history. Police and the justice system are inherently racist, and they cannot be engaged in good faith.
Continue reading “Movie Review – Mangrove”
Red, White, and Blue (2020)
Written by Steven McQueen & Courttia Newland
Directed by Steven McQueen
In this film, director Steve McQueen explores the intersection of blacks & immigrants with the police. To say this is a politically and emotionally charged issue to take on would be an understatement. Much like the United States, England’s law enforcement has had a very tense relationship with Black and Asian communities. The majority of the London Metropolitan Police in the 1970s were white men from conservative backgrounds who saw any guff from a non-white civilian as an attempt to humiliate them. There was an ongoing sentiment that these populations need to be “put in their place” to hold up the law.
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Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Written by Robert Bolt
Directed by David Lean
Coming off the meteoric success of Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean desired to make a film more romantic & relationship-centered, a counter to Lawrence’s epic war themes. However, Hollywood now saw him as a filmmaker of sprawling bombastic movies. Doctor Zhivago, based on the worldwide bestseller by Boris Pasternak. Originally, Omar Sharif signed on with the expectation of playing Pasha, while Lean wanted Peter O’Toole as the lead again. O’Toole opted out, and so Lean asked Sharif to play the lead part. On December 22, 1965, just in time for Christmas, Doctor Zhivago was released in theaters and became one of the highest-grossing movies of all-time.
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Lovers Rock (2020)
Written Steve McQueen & Courttia Newland
Directed by Steve McQueen
I fell in love with director Steve McQueen’s work when I saw his first feature film, Hunger, a decade ago. The way he told the story of Bobby Sands, an IRA member who took part in a prisoner hunger strike and died standing up for his beliefs, was told beautifully. As someone who knew nothing about Bobby Sands beforehand, I was in tears during the beautiful final scene. McQueen hasn’t disappointed me since, and I consider every film he’s directed to be one of the best of that year’s releases. So, in 2020, a year that has been unconventional in every possible aspect, McQueen has done something unconventional with his filmmaking as well, releasing the Small Axe Anthology.
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Brief Encounter (1945)
Written by Noël Coward, Anthony Havelock-Allan, David Lean, and Ronald Neame
Directed by David Lean
David Lean was born into the Quaker faith in 1908 in the pastoral environs of Surrey, England. While in school, Lean was deemed too dreamy and not up to snuff with the level of academics he was expected to master. At age 18, he entered into an apprenticeship under his father’s accountancy firm. At age ten, Lean had been given a Brownie box camera, and this event was looked back at by the director as one of the most formative experiences in his life. The next formative moment came when at age 15, Lean’s father left his family. Lean would follow suit with his first wife and child. He would remarry five additional times, and friends claimed he slept with around 1,000 women in his lifetime.
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You Can Count On Me (2000)
Written & Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
A brief few moments of tragedy can ripple through people’s lives seemingly forever. This is what has happened to a pair of adult siblings from upstate New York who have drifted apart over the year. Now they find it nearly impossible to reconnect, and their personal lives are a series of missteps and errors. Starting out as a playwright, Kenneth Lonergan came to films after a few successful stage productions. His directorial debut is a melancholy picture, a slice of life that doesn’t deliver the denouement we might expect but just presents a moment from these characters’ lives where they make some decisions, and we see how they live with the consequences.
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We Are Who We Are (HBO)
Written by Paolo Giordano, Francesca Manieri, and Luca Guadagnino
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Filmmaker Luca Guadagnino has a talent for making small, everyday moments bubble over with emotion and energy. In his mini-series, We Are Who We Are, the daily travails of American teenagers living on a military base in Italy will be going along as expected, and then the right music cue and change in camera speed elevate the outing into something mythic, poetic, beautiful. Just as he’s done in I Am Love and Call Me By Your Name, Guadagnino is once again exploring ideas of love and of being an uncomfortable outsider in a new place. The result is the best television program of 2020, a work of art that reminds us why HBO is a powerhouse for quality television that allows artists to manifest their vision.
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Erin Brockovich (2000)
Written by Susannah Grant
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh had quite a year in 2000. In March, he released this film, and in December, Traffic came out. In both these films and others, Soderbergh focuses on themes centered around working-class/poor people being victims of a cruel, uncaring system. Even Ocean’s 11 is about an ex-con with nothing trying to screw over selfish, evil, wealthy people. Magic Mike is all about people struggling to make ends meet and raise themselves out of the poverty they seem stuck in while being exploited. Soderbergh doesn’t make traditional advocacy films and is more interested in telling character-focused stories that touch on economic struggles & hardships.
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