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🎬 "Grandma's on the roof"

🎬 "Grandma's on the roof"
By Eric Johnson • Issue #70 • View online

For once, the lateness of this week’s newsletter wasn’t an accident — Thursday night, at the time I’d normally be writing this, I was running a Recode Decode taping with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky that we released this morning. Check it out!
Lots of movies this week in quarantine, so let’s dive right in…
📬 You've Got Mail
After mentioning it in last week’s review of The Lunchbox, I was happy to re-watch Nora Ephron’s 1998 film You’ve Got Mail, possibly the first rom-com I ever saw. I think I’ve seen it through at least four times before this week. It’s … fine!
There are many things I love about this movie: Meg Ryan is super likable and believable as bookshop owner Kathleen Kelly; Ephron writes lovingly of the changing seasons in New York City, and her words are beautifully translated to the screen’s idealized vision of the Upper West Side; and, of course, I have to give a shout out to Brinkley, the very good dog owned by Tom Hanks’ character Joe Fox. Rumor has it Brinkley a late addition to the movie because in early test screenings, the dog-less Joe came off as a super creep.
Despite Brinkley’s best efforts, Fox still comes off pretty bad in this movie, especially in a less innocent era where we don’t implicitly trust strangers on the internet. His anonymous flirtation with Kelly over email eventually turns into what can only be called gaslighting, and I don’t really buy the two characters’ chemistry. It’s kind of wild to see Hanks in such an unlikable role.
YOU'VE GOT MAIL (1998) - Official Movie Trailer
YOU'VE GOT MAIL (1998) - Official Movie Trailer
You’ve Got Mail is currently streaming (with ads) on the Roku Channel, and is available on all the big video platforms —$3.99 to rent, and $8.99 to $14.99 to buy (YouTube/Google Play currently have the best price).
🤠 The Big Country
The Big Country is a frustrating movie because it has so much potential to be more powerful than it is.
First, what I liked: This is an old-school western with beautiful scenery, an iconic score, and an unusual protagonist played by the always-good Gregory Peck. Unusual because his character here is a genteel East Coast man who relocates west to be with the woman he loves.
The only problem is, that woman and her family are engaged in a bitter, seemingly decades-long feud with another family, and neither side is willing to compromise until the other is wiped off the face of the earth. Peck’s arrival as a fish out of water who doesn’t want to hurt anybody is a great premise, but in execution, the film doesn’t interrogate the machismo and vitriol that animates the Hannassey and Terrill families as much as it could.
It’s hard to explain more without spoiling the movie, but suffice it to say the ending of this movie — which treats unequal foes as equally deserving of loss and bloodshed — was unsatisfying. At the end of a nearly 3-hour investment, that is not a good place to be.
The Big Country - Rufus Crashes the Party
The Big Country - Rufus Crashes the Party
The Big Country is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and is available on many of the big video platforms —$3.99 to rent, and $7.99 to $14.99 to buy (Vudu currently has the best price).
👵🏼 The Farewell
The Farewell was one of my favorite movies of 2019 and, yes, I am still mad it was snubbed at the Oscars — more so, in fact, after finding that it really holds up on a second viewing.
Here’s what I wrote about it last year:
‪THE FAREWELL is a lovely, bittersweet film that will almost certainly be in my top 10 of the year. “Based on an actual lie,” it follows an Americanized Chinese immigrant back home to see her ailing grandmother under the pretense of a cousin’s wedding. And I know that sounds morbid, but it’s way funnier than I expected. I hope the Oscar campaigns for Awkwafina and Shuzhen Zhao — who plays the criminally adorable grandmother — are already underway.‬ Highly recommended.
The Farewell | Official Trailer HD | A24
The Farewell | Official Trailer HD | A24
The Farewell is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and is available on many of the big video platforms —$0.99 to $5.99 to rent (Amazon and Fandango Now currently have the best prices), and $7.99 to $16.99 to buy (Amazon currently has the best price).
🚲 Bicycle Thieves
Bicycle Thieves is a technically accomplished and widely beloved classic. It’s a simple story about a desperate man on the edge of poverty in post-WWII Italy, whose livelihood is dependent on him having a bike. Spoiler alert, it gets stolen, and so he goes on a frustrating, depressing quest to get it back.
I suspect this movie was revolutionary for the time of its release in its frank depiction of a lower-class man named Ricci, played by Lamberto Maggiorani, running up against systems such as indifferent police, and mob justice. Intellectually, it really worked for me, and I of course could sympathize with Ricci’s desperation to just get his bike and get to work.
But on an emotional level, I wish I had learned more about his backstory, and how he felt about the confusing world around him. There’s something to be said for an everyman character — or in this case, an every-poor-man — but the indignities Ricci faces would have made me much angrier if I knew him better.
Bicycle Thieves (1948) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers
Bicycle Thieves (1948) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers
Bicycle Thieves is currently streaming on the Criterion Channel and Kanopy, and is available on many of the big video platforms —$3.99 to rent, and $14.99 to $19.99 to buy.
👯‍♀️ Booksmart
Not by design, I watched another of my 2019 favorites this week, the sublime teen comedy Booksmart.
I wasn’t updating this newsletter when it came out, so the only old “review” I can cite here is what I tweeted shortly after leaving the theater: “Booksmart > Superbad.” To be fair to Superbad, I’ve seen that movie less recently, but there’s room for both to exist in the high school movie pantheon.
Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever star as two dorky best friends who discover on their last day of high school that their studious college-minded avoidance of parties and romantic partners has been a waste; their classmates who actually had fun in high school are also going to good colleges, and so the overachievers decide to go wild while they still can.
Feldstein and Dever are incredibly likable, and even though some of their costars look a bit too old to be graduating high school, I don’t care, because everyone is funny. The scene-stealing MVP is Billie Lourd (who clearly learned a thing or two from her mother Carrie Fisher), playing the eccentric-and-then-some Gigi.
BOOKSMART Trailer (2019) Lisa Kudrow, Olivia Wild, Teen Movie
BOOKSMART Trailer (2019) Lisa Kudrow, Olivia Wild, Teen Movie
Booksmart is currently streaming on Hulu, and is available on some of the big video platforms —$3.99 to $5.99 rent, and $9.99 to $14.99 to buy (Amazon and Fandango Now currently have the best price).
Other Stuff I Liked This Week
Just in time for my Booksmart re-watch, we finished the Netflix series Never Have I Ever this week. It’s an excellent, bingeable show about an Indian-American girl in high school, played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan — and, among several other weird twists, her story is narrated by tennis legend John McEnroe. The narration will seem weird at first, and the show takes a couple episodes to get going, but I wound up loving the first season. The jokes have an unusually high hit rate, the dramatic stakes are believable and moving, and the cast is thoroughly impressive. Recommended.
One of my favorite podcasts, Decoder Ring, is all about explaining “cultural mysteries” — and the most recent episode is about a song that you may already be singing in your head after seeing the above image, Rebecca Black’s Friday. As she has with past episodes about other divisive creations, such as Baby Shark and gender-reveal parties, host Willa Paskin treats the song with thoughtfulness and care, and re-contextualizes the abuse Black suffered from the internet for making “the worst song ever.”
The Miracle Sudoku
The Miracle Sudoku
I bookmarked this video after seeing it shared with the headline, “It’s Legit Thrilling Watching This Man Solve An Intense Sudoku Puzzle.” And folks, let me tell you — the headline was right. If you have 25 minutes, do yourself a favor and watch this. The guy solving the puzzle is just adorkable and watching his brain work will warm your heart. As he says, “absolutely staggering.”
Did you enjoy this issue?
Eric Johnson

I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

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