Films now skip between the movie houses and your online providers so the difference between a TV movie and what you see on the silver screen can be negligible or null.
What the movie houses can provide is popcorn and a safe haven from phone calls and other home-activated disturbances, but unless you have megabucks, your home theater experience won’t include things like 4DX or ScreenX.
ScreenX is available at the Korean CGV Cinema in Koreatown where you can also get four flavors of popcorn (butter, caramel, onion or spicy cheddar chicken), three types of pretzels (sweet dough, jalapeño or cream cheese) and squid (head or legs). Besides Korean films, this small three-screened theater also offers films with Korean subtitles.
The ScreenX is a theater with screens at the front and on both sides. The best seats are in the middle. I’ve scene two movies there: “Captain Marvel” and “Jumanji.” For “Captain Marvel,” the action scenes were amplified by the movement on your peripheral vision. For “Jumanji: The Next Level,” the expanse of the desert or the tangle of the jungle were emphasized. I wondered what “Lawrence of Arabia” would be like in ScreenX.
While fun ScreenX is not as addictive as 4DX which is like being at a lower level non-roller coaster Disneyland or Universal Studio ride. You get a premium seat and the seats move while at certain times air will stream or water will mist on your face and sometimes punches will be dispensed on your back. From the screen, you can see extra flashes of light, smoke and even for 4DX extreme, fake snow.
My first experience was with “John Wick: Chapter 3–Parabellum,” and while 4DX is great for action movies, it is also good for animation like “Abominable” or “The Lion King.” With “Abominable,” when they main characters slide through a field of flowers, you could smell the odor of the flowers and during a chase when the main character is being pursued by a helicopter, you could feel the circular chop, chop, chop of the propeller. The 4DX certainly made “Zombieland: Double Tap” more fun. Every time a zombie head was shot, you got a spray of water. I did wish that with the “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” that more water was used, but that’s a minor point in a mediocre movie. In addition, early morning 4DX showings are rarely crowded even for first run movies.
While mostly playing first-run movies, 4DX would be great for those old movies that had smell as a special feature and I truly feel that every Godzilla movie should be shown in 4DX.
Notable Performances of 2019
While I wrote about Jonathan Pryce’s performance in “The Two Popes” for RogerEbert.com, there are a few other performances that I feel are notable.
The dogs in “John Wick: Chapter 3–Parabellum” were the talk of one of the biggest dog shows in the Los Angeles area. Keanu Reeves and the dogs who play his dog throughout the series are good, but Halle Berry as Sofia has two dogs, Belgian Malinois, had an obvious affection and working relationship with Berry. Dog people–both confirmation and agility–could see this clearly transferred on the screen. The Malinois stunts were also impressive but don’t try those at home.
Cynthia Erivo was “Harriet” was a gutsy, straight-forward, faith-filled performance, contrasting with the much taller Aisha Hinds in the TV series “Underground.” Erivo is closer to the actual height of the real Harriet Tubman and size does make a different in personality development. It’s easy to underestimate the short and petite and seldom do we see short women portrayed as heroes or leaders, but Tubman (and Joan of Arc) was both.
One performance that won’t get a lot of fanfare, is Awkwafina’s performance in “Jumanji: The Next Level.” Could there be more perfect casting than Awkwafina as Danny DeVito? While some versions of karma have women coming back as men before they can reach a higher level, as the pickpocket Ming played by Awkwafina, he has hair and he’s taller. How could that not be a step up? Dwayne Johnson’s impression of Danny DeVito is also fun but lets us know that sometimes the wrong person is in a game avatar and that can lead to disaster. The ultimate message is that everyone can be part of a team and brings different skills, a message that is also in the “How to Train Your Dragon” series.
In 1991, I wrote against Jonathan Pryce portraying The Engineer in “Miss Saigon.” Pryce had originated the role on the West End to much acclaim. His sly Engineer won him an Olivier and a Tony. To me, “Miss Saigon” is just an updating of the Western Madame Butterfly Orientalist fantasy, so I’m not a fan of the musical itself. Pryce’s turn in “The Two Popes,” is a very different character. When we first meet him, he’s trying to make an airline reservation by phone; his character has just become Pope Francis. He had been Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina. His soft voice doesn’t portray frustration or anger when the person on the other end of the phone hangs up in disbelief. “The Two Popes” is based on script writer Anthony McCarten’s play and is a series of conversations. In the movie, music has meaning. At the 2005 enclave where Pope Benedict XI is chosen, Bergoglio is listening to ABBA, but there’s nothing in his step or posture that reveals a physical need to dance. His dancing is part of his Argentinian identity just like his devotion to soccer. What enfolds instead is a man who has given up much and believes the position of pope makes one a martyr. His voice and demeanor is one of gentleness, of a grandfatherly embrace. One could imagine being at a milonga in Buenos Aires and being approached or approaching this kindly, gentle man and having a peaceful exchange, a flow of give and take without any sexual tension. The subtext of the screenplay is not only the Old World of Europe versus the New World of the Americas (Bergoglio was the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas and the first from outside of Europe since Syrian Gregory III in the 8th Century), but also the American and European concept of what tango is. The secondary definition of tango in Merriam-Webster is “interaction marked by a lack of straightforwardness” and you’ll often hear soundtracks resort to tango to suggest a con, spies in action or other nefarious doings. That is not what is going on here. Pryce’s Bergoglio is open, honest and filled with compassion and an example of why the humble will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
Below is my list Best Movies of 2019 in alphabetical order.
- Ad Astra
- Apollo 11 (documentary)
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
- Dark Water
- Don’t F**k with Cats
- A Hidden Life
- How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World/Toy Story 4
- Jojo Rabbit
- Knives Out
- Marriage Story
- Pain and Glory
- The Two Popes
“Ad Astra” was a lovely consideration about the collateral damage left by male pioneers/explorers. Brad Pitt is somber and wounded and his father seems more determined to insure that his legacy is preserved and in the human life and the connections between a father and son.
“Apollo 11” (documentary) brings an attention to detail and editing cannot be ignored. What a beautiful remembrance of a historic event. If you missed all the hoopla on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, then don’t overlook all the exciting things that came from it–the leap in technology and science, the knowledge we’ve gained about the moon and our own planet and the possibilities for the future that were outlined in “Chasing the Moon.”
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is a lovely reminder of how we could make a better world and that heroes aren’t necessarily the ones who dodge bullets and get medals. Tom Hanks who has always seemed lovable and perfectly affable on the screen and in person, glows with goodwill and almost insanely deep patience.
“Dark Water” is a credit to both casting and passionate acting. I was astounded that the real person was better looking than the actor. This was proof that one person can make a difference but a warning that with heroic crusades you may have to give up profits. In a time where the environment is becoming an alarming concern, this diatribe against Dupont and industrial pollution is a must-see.
“Don’t F**k with Cats” is a Netflix miniseries that looks at Internet activism and how a group of dedicated animal lovers attempted to warn the police and aided in the capture of a murderer. Some people want attention, even if it is bad attention.
“A Hidden Life” is a beautiful tribute to a man who refused to join the Nazi forces and was executed as a result. His family was initially stigmatized but times have changed and with it, the assessment of this man and his tragic life. Doing the right thing isn’t easy, but, again, one man can make a difference.
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”/”Toy Story 4”: The DreamWorks dragon trilogy and the Toy Story series have both pushed the development of computer animation. Reviewing the series, you can see how far the art has come, particularly in the animation of water. Yet both DreamWorks and Pixar have given us characters that we can care about and stories that touch our hearts.
“Jojo Rabbit” balances humor with tragedy in unexpected ways when a young boy’s imaginary best friend is Hitler as his mother in part of the Resistance and is even hiding a Jewish girl.
“Knives Out” brings the drawing room mystery from England to New England and gives us a murder mystery that has red herrings and a happy ending of sorts. The casting is spot on and the acting plays with out prejudices and cinematic history to great effect. I love murder mysteries and I would love some more, with or without the Game of Throne like chair, but the atmospheric architecture is a must.
“Laundromat” is like an expanded play where the characters break the fourth wall and our narrators turn out to be the criminals, the con men whose victims are your every day person. With a movie, you can actually either give us the illusion that we’re in exotic places or actually go there, giving us a global view of a means of making money that leaves too many with nothing.
“Marriage Story” was better for me on the second viewing. The first time I flashed back to my own divorce. This is an actor’s story that delineates the differing values between actors in NYC and LA and that leads to a divorce. I’m not an actor except in the Shakespearean all the world’s a stage sense and my divorce involved a restraining order and domestic violence. This story does not but shows how easily things can become adversarial.
“Pain and Glory” is about a famous director with back pain and drug-related problems who finds himself in an artistic slump and struggles to crawl out of it while dealing with his past loves, past triumphs and flashes of memories from his childhood.
“Parasite” is many things. It starts out as a light-hearted tale about con artists and then plunges us into the unexpected horrors of hidden lives, the divide between the haves and have-nots and the secrets of a house. Like Knives Out, the house is as much of a character in this film as the actors.
“Shadow ” is a question about light and dark, feminine and masculine and who are the tru heroes during an era of warring states in China. Stylish, surprising and tragic, this film is an interesting interpretation of legend.
“The Two Popes” was on my first view just a film about old white men talking, but upon the second viewing I thought of the soundtrack and the intelligent talk, the conversations that were respectful, reflective and spiritual without being insulting. There’s something to be learned here.
“Unbelievable” asked questions and was written and directed with great compassion for all sides of the problem (except the serial rapist). Instead of vilifying the police officers who got it wrong and even the friends and acquaintances, the people were treated as flawed every day people who made mistakes.
Best Of 2010s
Best Films: Live Action
- The Artist (2011)
- The Big Short (2015)
- BlacKkKlansman (2018)
- Boyhood (2014)
- The Dressmaker (2015)
- The Favourite (2018)
- Hidden Figures (2016)
- Jojo Rabbit (2019)
- Knives Out (2019)
- La La Land (2016)
- Land of Mine (2015)
- Love, Actually (2003)
- The Martian (2015)
- A Monster Calls (2016)
- Parasite (2019)
- Phantom Thread (2017)
- The Post (2017)
- Selma (2014)
- The Shape of Water (2017)
- Spotlight (2015)
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
Best Films: Animation
- Big Hero 6 (2014)
- The Breadwinner (2017)
- The Boy and the Beast ( バケモノの子, 2015)
- Buñuel in the Labyrinth of Turtles (2018)
- Frozen (2013)
- How to Train Your Dragon (2010, 2014, 2019) series
- Incredibles 2 (2018)
- Loving Vincent (2017)
- Moana (2016)
- Mirai of the Future (2018)
- Song of the Sea (2014)
- Tangled (2010)
- Toy Story 3/4
- Zootopia (2016)
- Apollo 11 (2019)
- Chasing Ice (2012)
- The Chinese Exclusion Act (2017)
- The Eagle Huntress (2016)
- Free Solo (2018)
- He Named Me Malala (2015)
- Hooligan Sparrow (2016)
- I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
- A Lego Brickumentary (2014)
- Life Itself (2014)
- Muscle Shoals (2013)
- Sherpa (2015)
- Tower (2016)
- Wormwood (miniseries, 2017)
At a time when science is being oppressed by the man in the White House, movies like “Chasing Ice” become increasingly important. “Chasing Ice,” like “Free Solo” and “The Eagle Huntress” also pushed cinematography to new heights.
“Tower” used animation to minimize the gore while also personalizing the experience. “I Am Not Your Negro” gave us a lyrical voice a documentary.
Best TV Shows
- Black-ish (2014-present)
- Castle (2009-2016)
- Chuck (2007-2012)
- Fargo (2014-present)
- Grace and Frankie (2015-present)
- iZombie (2015-2019)
- Jane the Virgin (2014-2019)
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017-present)
- Modern Family (2009 to present)
- Psych (2006-2014)
- Scrubs (2001-2010)
- This Is Us (2016-present)
- Ugly Betty (2006-2010)
Signs We Need to Talk About Whitewashing
If you watched “The Chinese Exclusion Act,” and realize that a Chinese American woman directed the Golden Globe-nominated “The Farewell,” then you’ll realize just how far we’ve come. Just a reminder of how whitewashing was still acceptable in Hollywood and elsewhere, this is the decade of “Aloha,” “Doctor Strange” and “The Last Airbender.” If Asians thought that finally an Asian ethnic actor would be cast as Khan in Star Trek, then they were disappointed to find things could be explained in a conveniently convoluted fashion to give us Benedict Cumberbatch. Instead of a step forward from the wonderful Ricardo Montalban (when any ethnic looking person could play Asian and that was an improvement from yellow face), we went a step backward.
- Aloha (2015)
- Cloud Atlas (2012)
- Doctor Strange (2016)
- Emperor (2013)
- Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
- Ghost in the Shell (2017)
- Gods of Egypt (2016)
- The Last Airbender (2010)
- Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
- 21 (2008)