You Should Be Watching: June 14-20

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, and anywhere else streams are found. This week I’m recommending an epic wartime trilogy about a man striving to live up to his pacifist ideals in 1940s Japan, an award-winning film about a mother and her son whose entire world is the room they live in, expiring from Amazon Prime soon, and lastly a fascinating documentary detailing the exploits of the man who famously walked a wire between the Twin Towers of Manhattan. Also, this week is  your last chance to catch Captain America: Civil War on Netflix.

 


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


 

The Human Condition Trilogy

Year: 1959, 1960, 1961

Director: Masaki Kobayashi

Genre: Drama, History, War

Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Michiyo Aratama, Chikage Awashima, Ineko Arima, Sô Yamamura, Akira Ishihama, Kôji Nanbara, Seiji Miyaguchi, Tôru Abe, Masao Mishima, Eitarô Ozawa, Kôji Mitsui, Akitake Kôno, Nobuo Nakamura, 山茶花 究, Eijirō Tōno, Shinsuke Ashida, Keiji Sada, Yasushi Nagata, Yoshio Kosugi, Toshiko Kobayashi, Taiji Tonoyama, Akira Tani, Junji Masuda, Torahiko Hamada, Teruko Kishi, Takamaru Sasaki, Akio Isono, Jun Ôtomo

 

The Human Condition, Masaki Kobayashi’s epic wartime trilogy is set in Japan during World War II. It represents one man’s complete journey to balance his drive to care for and protect the woman he loves against risking everything to live according to his idealistic principles. From technical details like his perfect blocking and shot construction to the universal concepts of romantic love, sacrifice, and the desire of all mankind to be treated with dignity, Kobayashi’s directorial and storytelling expertise shines through every frame, and his influence on future filmmakers is readily apparent, especially the threads between Part II and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket as our hero experiences firsthand the brutality of the Japanese army.

Kobayashi centers our viewpoint firmly on Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai) and his humble compassion right from the introduction, where we meet him and Michiko (Michiyo Aratama), the woman he loves. Kaji is a pacifist with socialist ideals, so despite them wanting to marry, he wants to protect her from the hardship a life with him would surely provide. At one point, Michiko fights to convince him to stand by and let injustice happen so that he won’t surely be killed for treason, and it’s one of the most powerful and heartrending scenes in cinema.

Throughout the trilogy, as Kaji goes from a metaphorical to a grueling literal journey, he continues to face internal conflict over his beliefs and his compassion for his fellow man. But between the utter exhaustion and delirium of himself and his companions, presented in the most visceral of ways, his growing inability to stop the cruelty around him slowly breaks down his resolve and his character. In this, his most broken down and desperate state, we see what is at his core that will drive him to hold on to his humanity.

EXPIRING: Last day to watch on FilmStruck channel is June 22. Will remain on Criterion channel


 

Room

Year: 2015

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Sean Bridgers, Tom McCamus, Amanda Brugel, Joe Pingue, Cas Anvar, Wendy Crewson, Kate Drummond, Randal Edwards, Jack Fulton, Justin Mader, Zarrin Darnell-Martin, Jee-Yun Lee, Ola Sturik, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, Rory O’Shea, Matt Gordon, Sandy McMaster, Chantelle Chung, Brad Wietersen, Derek Herd

 

For those few of you who have yet to see it, Room is an amazing film that will fill your heart with emotion, remind you of the powerful bond between mother and child, and challenge your perspective of the world around you. Brie Larson as Ma gives an Oscar-winning performance, and Jacob Tremblay as Ma’s son Jack gives an Oscar-deserving one. The premise is simple. Jack has lived his whole life in a small room with Ma. They receive a visitor every once in a while who gets them what they need to survive in exchange for sleeping with Ma while Jack goes and sleeps in the closet. Having given up hope of ever leaving the room and for the sake of Jack’s happiness, Ma has embraced the fiction the room is the world.

Their experience is grieving, the horror practically unimaginable. This is Larson at her most vulnerable, completely owning the reality of Ma’s wretched state and its effect on her body and mind. And Tremblay is a revelation. Even as a child actor, he makes it easy to believe the life experiences of Jack, his innocence, wonder, hurt, and anger are his own. This story presents a  fearful yet heavy reality of similar and even worse events occurring all around the world.

But It turns out to be a deeply layered film that sticks with you long after it’s over. Jack’s perspective relate to all of us in a philosophical, big picture, life-changing sense. But so did Ma’s in the sense of our day-to-day reality and how we bear the weight of our past. It’s not easy to take an all-too-common yet tragic story like this and have it say so much about life and death, good and evil, family, depression, perspective, burdens, sacrifice, the media, innocence, and wonder. But the combined efforts of both writer Emma Donoghue and director Lenny Abrahamson masterfully provided just that.

EXPIRING: Last day to watch is June 23


 

Man on Wire

Year: 2008

Director: James Marsh 

Genre: Documentary, History, Crime, Thriller

Cast: Philippe Petit, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Annie Allix, David Forman, Alan Welner, Barry Greenhouse, Jim Moore

 

There’s a phenomenon that occurs now and then in the film world where the subject matter of an acclaimed documentary is sooner or later created as a narrative film. We see that currently with the movies about the life of Fred Rogers. But previously, this occurred with the awe-inspiring documentary I’m recommending, Man on Wire, which details the exploits of Phillippe Petit, a daredevil French high-wire walker who had an inner compulsion to perform increasingly dangerous feats of wirewalking. His ultimate obsession, as dramatized in Robert Zemeckis‘ 4th-wall-breaking film The Walk, was to attach a wire between the Twin Towers of Manhattan and walk from one side to the other.

What makes this film so fascinating and makes the aforementioned dramatization unnecessary, is its intercutting of interviews, archival footage, and re-enactments to clearly tell the compelling story of this strange yet entertaining showman who was driven to do the impossible and the band of friends and accomplices he compiled who would help him do so. As far Petit was concerned, the illegality of the feats he was compelled to perform meant nothing more than another obstacle. Nearly as much as danger itself, It is the forbidden, illegal nature of his plan to walk between the towers that infuses the film with tension and excitement. It plays very much like a heist film with all the detailed planning, setbacks, and specific windows of opportunity you’d expect, even though nothing is being stolen but an experience.


 

COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

June 15
Super (2010)

June 18
Theeb (2014)

June 24
Captain America: Civil War (2016)

June 29
On Golden Pond (1981)

 

AMAZON PRIME

June 15
Anomalisa (2015)

June 23
Room (2013)

 

FILMSTRUCK

June 15
City Lights (1931) *
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Metropolis (1927)
Peeping Tom (1960)
Wag the Dog (1997)

June 22
An American in Paris (1951)
An Angel at My Table (1990) *
The Human Condition I: No Greater Love (1959) *
The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity (1960) *
The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer (1961) *
The Piano (1993)

June 29
Dogville (2003) **
The Five Obstructions (2003)
The Italian Connection (1972)
The Music Man (1962)

June 30
Caliber 9 (1972)
It Happened One Night (1934)
The Ladykillers (1955)

*  Remaining on the Criterion channel
** Remaining on the FilmStruck channel

 

HULU

June 30
Zodiac (2007)
Stories We Tell (2012)
A Simple Plan (1998)
Project Nim (2011)
Marathon Man (1976)
A League of Their Own (1992)


 

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Ali’s Wedding – NETFLIX FILM (2017)

 

AMAZON PRIME

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
Precious (2009)
Red River (1948)

 

FILMSTRUCK

Arthur (1981)
Baby Doll (1956)
Cabaret (1972)
Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1968)
Moses and Aaron (1975)
Of Mice and Men (1939)
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

 

HULU

Precious (2009)


 

COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

June 16
In Bruges (2008)

 

HULU

June 15
Middle of Nowhere (2012)
The Second Mother (2015)
Smoke (1995)
Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak (2009)

 


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

Episode 109: Score: A Film Music Documentary

Joining us for Episode 109 is a special first time guest – soundtrack superfan, and film music reporter and media reporter, Benson Farris. We discuss first-time director Matt Schrader’s Score: A Film Music Documentary, which was shot over a 2 1/2-year period after raising more than $160,000 through two crowd-funding campaigns. Matt has said, “I’ve always been a big fan of movie music, and as I realized a lot of people love film scores, I knew there would be an audience for this film,” and you can consider us and this episode proof that he’s correct. If you love film music already, this is an episode for you. And if you don’t, listen to this one and you might just change your mind.

Score: A Film Music Documentary Review – 0:02:17

The Connecting Point – 0:40:37


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: RBG

RBG (2018)

1 Hour and 37 Minutes (PG)

“I dissent.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

RBG begins with a camera tour of Washington landmarks, backed by classical music and hateful comments about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is a somewhat electrifying beginning and one that implies a fast-paced, exciting documentary, setting up what is sure to be a rebuttal of those opening comments. This scene, however, is a bit of an outlier as the filmmaking style generally used is much more bland, with the exception of one section that focuses on Ginsburg’s rise to pop culture icon. That isn’t to say it’s bad, but it certainly doesn’t break any new ground in terms of how the story is being told.

Despite not being the most compelling documentary with regards to style, RBG’s story about the life of the tiny 85-year old Supreme Court Justice is fascinating. Before becoming the second-ever female justice on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg worked tirelessly as an attorney, making a name for herself in sex discrimination cases, famously saying “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren, is that they take their feet off our necks.” It’s only in her older age that Ginsburg reached a certain legendary status among the public, though, and it is incredibly interesting to learn how and why she became determined to fight for women’s rights as an attorney. Ultimately, Ginsburg reaches the Supreme Court and becomes known as “The Great Dissenter”. The documentary does an excellent job of showing how she maintained close friendships with conservative judges like Antonin Scalia despite vastly differing opinions and covers several of her higher profile cases, though sadly not with the level of detail most would like.

Outside of the courtroom, RBG introduces us to Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a daughter, parent, grandmother, and wife. These more intimate sections of the film are extremely straightforward and exist to establish her character, as well as tell a touching love story between she and husband Marty. One granddaughter’s insight is extremely telling and defines the Justice Ginsburg we have come to know, telling us “She taught me that the way to win an argument is not to yell because that will more often turn people away rather than bring them to your table.” In being this calm, relentless source of dissent to those who would marginalize the rights of the minority for any reason, Ginsburg became an icon to a younger generation, even garnering the nickname “Notorious R.B.G.”, a play on the name famous rapper, Biggie Smalls, The Notorious B.I.G. The most entertaining part of this portion of the film is perhaps seeing Justice Ginsburg’s reaction to her fame, giggling in delight as humbled by the support as she was fierce behind a bench.

VERDICT

RBG provides biographical insight into both the personal life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her lasting impact on the laws of this nation. Though nothing artistically interesting, the history lesson for those who know nothing (or little) of this great woman’s work is nonetheless a powerful and important one.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

FF+: The King of Kong

On this episode of FF+, Patrick and friend of the show Francisco Ruiz take a crack at walking through one of Patrick’s favorite types of storytelling: documentaries. Here they explore what makes a documentary entertaining, how real people can turn into heroes and villains, and why 80’s video games are the best ever. Hope you enjoy!

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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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Episode 082: The Blair Witch Project

For our 2017 Halloween episode, we are discussing the 1999 cult classic film that launched the found footage genre. The Blair Witch Project featured an incredible viral marketing campaign on its way to becoming the 2nd highest return on investment in film history. Listen for a great conversation that covers the films history, our thoughts on how scary it is, and some intriguing theories about the ending, plus much more.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:07

(Aaron – Song to Song, Nintendo Switch)
(Patrick – Scythe by Neal Shusterman)

The Blair Witch Project Review – 0:20:19

The Connecting Point – 1:36:40

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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MOVIE REVIEW: Ex Libris: The New York Public Library

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (2017)



Going In

Documentary master Frederick Wiseman’s newest film is a 3-hour plus exploration of the expansive 92-branch New York Public Library System. Though I have no background with Wiseman’s filmography, I am aware of his observational style and his repeated focus on studying American institutions. As someone who grew up an avid reader (especially of classical literature) and spent time working in a library early in his life, I am incredibly intrigued by what this film may have to say about an establishment that must constantly change to keep up with advancements in technology and the way people seek out information. The runtime of Ex Libris: The New York Public Library is intimidating, but I’m betting on Wiseman’s reputation and checking this one out.



COMING OUT

If I asked you to tell me the first word that comes to your mind when I say “library”, what would you say? It’s likely the vast majority of us would all give the same answer to that question. “Books”, of course. The word library is even synonymous with books. The Latin translation of Ex libris is simply “from the books.” In Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, Wiseman shows us the evolved institution that has come “from the books” but grown into something so much more.

The public library is no longer just a place that we go to read. In this massive documentary, Wiseman intertwines a series of ongoing meetings highlighting the library’s attempts to continue adapting to the digital age with observational footage of patrons utilizing the library spaces and resources in a countless different ways. The meetings were especially intriguing to me because we learn some of the challenges that encompass the enormous task of servicing millions of citizens with an expanded online presence. But many of the snapshots of users were intriguing as well. We see interpreters teaching how tone impacts their interpretations by having attendees read from the Declaration of Independence – one angry, one pleading. We see the inner workings of this gargantuan library system by way of the factory-like environment used to ship books between its 92 branches. We see dance classes, celebrity speeches, and a fascinating project in which the library checks out wi-fi devices and provides free internet service to local community members. There is much that is intriguing in the stories seen, and Wiseman transitions between them expertly, every so often giving us a pause with an establishing shot of an outside fountain or courtyard, or of an empty hall. There is simply no questioning Wiseman’s mastery of his craft and this style of documentary filmmaking.

Where Wiseman perhaps falters, though, is in his insistence on making this film three hours long. I can’t help but feel that if it was shorter, and thus more accessible, it might have a wider impact by being seen more. It’s hard to imagine many viewers sitting down to watch this and not turning it off halfway through, because the message is clear right away – the library is more than just books. How much time each individual viewer is willing to spend in these moments is going to be a very personal thing.

Verdict

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. At times I was simultaneously captivated and exhausted. Despite the film’s length, most moments were interesting enough to hold my attention. It may have been an unintended consequence that the film was educational beyond its message of showing how vast a library’s impact can be, but I emerged more knowledgeable than before. As much a master editor as anything else, Wiseman has proven to me that the praise he receives is warranted. This is a film that epitomizes the Aristotle coined-phrase “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” and while not a must-see for everyone, for those willing to embrace and breathe in the library for a few hours it will be well worth the investment.

Rating:

 


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Festival Minisode: SIFF Coverage #2

Welcome back to another episode of Feelin’ Film Plus. Returning for another conversation about the Seattle International Film Festival is Mike Ward, a fellow Seattle film critic whose insightful reviews always break down the pros and cons to help us answer that most important of questions, SHOULD I SEE IT? In this episode we discuss a variety of films covering multiple genres such as drama, comedy, science fiction, and (as always) documentaries. 

Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF): https://www.siff.net/festival

Landline – 0:09:34

Time Trap – 0:20:25

Entanglement – 0:29:04

STEP – 0:42:20

The Work – 0:53:09

The Farthest/The Last Animals –  1:07:12

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Intro/Outro Music – “Seeing the Future” by Dexter Britain

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