I’m in Portland on a writing retreat that so far has been an abysmal failure. The goal was to be here for five days, the first four alone, in a place where I was comfortable but had no responsibilities, connections, etc, where I could just plant myself in various coffee houses and bars and write as a voluntary captive. This was largely to force myself to do the very hardest part of writing fiction: staring at a blank page/screen and trying to conjure a narrative of some sort. When I get into a rhythm things go pretty well with writing, and after a long period of inactivity this was my attempt to kick off a new rhythm. The reason the trip has been a failure so far is that within an hour after arriving I got some sort of terrible food poisoning or gastroenteritis. Thus, this is the third day of my trip and I am just now, at 3:48 in the afternoon, sitting down to write for the first time. Not what I had hoped for when I’d been planning this trip for the last few months. On the bright side, at least I am sitting down to write for the first time at heart, and they are playing Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange in its entirety.
Anyway, to get the writing juices flowing, I am starting with a blog post instead of fiction writing. It is part cop out, part dipping my toe in the water, and part reminder of how on earth to string sentences together in semi-coherent thoughts.
As a result of numerous conversations lately where people have asked me for recommendations, I’m offering some to the entire internet. This time, for movies. Perhaps you’ve already seen some/all of these, but they are some of the best movies I’ve seen in the last few months and in conversations I’ve had, too few folks have given them a try.
I’ve kept all the descriptions brief.
1. Headhunters (Hodejegerne)
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, better known as Jaime Lannister, co-stars in this Norwegian film about a man employed as a corporate recruiter by day, and self-employed as an art thief by night. When it appears he has stolen from the wrong man, things get crazy in this well-executed thriller filled with strong performances that add to the narrative to create surprising depth.
2. The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos)
This Academy Award winning Argentinian film spans decades as a retiring criminal investigator decides to write a novel to help exorcise the demons he can’t shake, namely, an unsolved rape and murder and a love he never acted on. As far as his job goes, I’m not exactly sure how the details of the Argentinian judicial system work, it basically seemed like he was a detective who worked for a judge.
Set against the rich and troubling backdrop of the Argentinian government of the 60’s and 70’s which can only be appropriately described as evil, the story works beautifully as both a mystery thriller and a love story. So great!
3. Perfect Sense
An original take on the apocalypse film, Perfect Sense stars Ewan McGregor and Eva Green. The story begins as an epidemiologist begins struggling to understand an outbreak with no apparent cause where people become temporarily overcome with profound sadness, then recover quickly but without their sense of smell. Said scientist meets a womanizing, profoundly talented chef, and from there they must navigate the strange and terrifying times that just keep getting worse.
The film is quiet, poetic, and beautiful. Underrated and seen by far too few.
There has been much written about Matthew McConaughey’s remarkable rise from that pot head who played himself in a bunch of romantic comedies to remarkable actor who brings profound depth to every performance and an electric charisma to the screen with each line. An underrepresented (albeit universally acclaimed) part of that rise was Mud, Jeff Nichols follow-up to Take Shelter (one of my absolute favorite films from recent years, which I have already gone on about here).
Two teenage boys encounter a charismatic and mysterious fugitive near their homes along the Mississippi River, forming a bond with him as they attempt to help him escape justice. Nichols is a master of subdued, beautifully shot scenes, of creating rich emotional moments that feel authentic as opposed to melodramatic, and of capturing subtle and nuanced performances from everyone he directs.
Currently Nichols is filming Midnight Special, about a dad who goes on the run with his son after discovering the boy has special powers. He’s said that while it seems counterintuitive, Midnight Special is actually a more grounded story than Mud. Color me excited!
5. Kings of Summer
Frustrated by his relationship with his father, while both craving and fearing adulthood, Joe Toy convinces his best friend Patrick (and an accidental tagalong weirdo Biaggio) to run away and build a house in the woods where they can truly be in charge of their lives. What could easily be a formulaic coming of age story is much, much more than that because of a tight and energetic screenplay, wonderful direction, and amazing performances by the likes of Nick Offerman, Nick Robinson, Megan Mullally, Allison Brie, Gabriel Basso, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and more. Also, newcomer Moses Arias as Biaggio is one of the most delightfully entertaining onscreen characters I’ve ever had the joy of watching.
Kings of Summer strikes a perfect balance between sarcasm and tenderness.