Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
On Golden Pond (1981)
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)
* Remaining on the Criterion channel
** Remaining on the FilmStruck channel
Ali’s Wedding – NETFLIX FILM (2017)
In Bruges (2008)
Middle of Nowhere (2012)
The Second Mother (2015)
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.
Last night at about 6:15 they showed up. There were two firetrucks, an ambulance and half a dozen police cars. They parked in front of my house and rushed in to the house across the street. Roughly two hours later, the stretcher came out of the house. It was empty. After packing up their gear, the firemen and paramedics left the scene. A large number of police officers remained for another hour or two, taking pictures and talking out on the porch. Once a County Sheriff arrived, the policemen also packed their gear and slowly filed out of the neighborhood. My wife and I watched for a while longer as the Sheriff walked around the living room, wondering what was going on. Finally, roughly five hours after it had all begun, a car from the mortuary arrived, and I watched as my neighbor’s body was put in the back of a van and driven away. Because of poor timing, I, myself, was hopping into my vehicle as the Sheriff locked the door to the vacant house and walked to the car. It was a weird time for me to think, “Hey, I’m going to go to the movies,” but I knew I wouldn’t be falling asleep anytime soon anyway, and movies tend to be the way I cope with or escape from difficult life situations. As it turns out, I don’t think there could have been a better time for me to see Wonder.
Wonder, the Stephen Chbosky film based on the popular R.J. Palacio novel, is 100 minutes of being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold winter day. It’s the story of August (Augie) Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a 10-year-old boy with a disfigured face due to mandibulofacial dysostosis, and his experiences attending school for the first time as a 5th grader at Beecher Prep. Because of his illness, he’s had more than 30 corrective surgeries to help him hear, see, and to attempt to fix the deformities in his face during his short life. These experiences have knit the Pullmans close together as a family that includes Augie, his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts), his father Nate (Owen Wilson) and his sister Via (Izabela Vidovic). Isabel is an illustrator who put her life on hold to care for Augie and homeschool him for his first ten years. Via is in high school and is facing challenges of her own as her best friend Miranda suddenly has no interest in her. She loves her brother, but is also jealous of the attention that he gets from her parents. While the plot mostly revolves around Augie, a significant amount of time is also spent with Via at her school as she navigates her relationship with Miranda, meets a boy, joins the drama club and works on the school production of Our Town. Nate is the most thinly drawn character in the family, but he’s shown to be a caring and engaged father whose quick wit cuts through otherwise tense situations between his wife and children.
The film begins 24 hours before the first day of school, follows Augie through 5th grade, and culminates at 5th grade graduation. Through the year, Augie meets friends, is betrayed by friends, gets bullied, makes new friends and through it all, excels at school. Wonder is funny, heartwarming and manages not to feel manipulative in its attempts to elicit emotion from the audience. Performances are great all around. Tremblay is an 11-year-old powerhouse. The chemistry between Roberts and Wilson makes their relationship and their home feel lived in and real. Vidovic shows a vulnerability behind Via’s outer façade of resolve. Mandy Patinkin makes the most of limited screen-time as the unfortunately named middle school principal Mr. Tushman.
My favorite character is Augie’s homeroom teacher Mr. Browne played by Daveed Diggs. He’s given little screen time, but the time he has on screen provides the film with most of its thematic weight. Mr. Browne preaches the virtue of kindness through a series of “precepts” that he introduces to his class. I’ve been unable to get his precept from the first day of school out of my mind. “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” It’s a beautiful insight that I rarely follow. When we insist on being right, even if you’re able to do so without succumbing to the level of discourse that’s typically reserved for YouTube comment sections, we lose the ability to be kind. Hate is not dispelled when we simply choose to refrain from being hateful. Kindness dispels hate and changes hearts. Kindness builds bridges. It does in a beautiful way for Augie in Wonder. While Augie was born looking different than everyone else, it’s ultimately his kind-heartedness that makes him stand out from his peers.
And as I drove home from the film early this morning I couldn’t help but think about my neighbor. Death has a way of making us think about missed opportunities. I thought about how we’ve lived 50 yards away from each other for over ten years, but our relationship never grew further than superficial chats about the weather at the mailbox. I thought about how I chose to avoid him for the first few years because his house happens to look like a setting for a Wes Craven film. I thought about the weeks he was away with health issues and how I never took the time to offer him a meal. I thought of the times I was annoyed at the overgrowth of weeds in his yard, but never offered a helping hand. And it broke my heart that I had run out of time to show him kindness.
Wonder is not a perfect film. It goes off on weird tangents where it follows neither Augie nor Via, but rather their friends Jack and Miranda. It feels like an effort to be faithful to the novel, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. Unfortunately, there’s also a time or two when the movie revels in bullies getting their comeuppance in a way that runs contrary to the overall theme. That feels like picking nits. What I’m going to remember about Wonder is that it was a well-acted and heartwarming story that served as a good reminder about the importance of showing kindness to others. I’m looking forward to watching this in the future with my wife and kids. If you’re looking for the perfect film to see as your food digests this Thanksgiving, look no further than Wonder. You could even invite your neighbor to come along.
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”
Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.