Culture Crash 19-01: Minding the Gap

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine what’s new and old in entertainment.

The year 2018 gave us a lot to love at the movies. Some of the highlights for me were Eighth Grade, Roma, A Quiet Place, and Blindspotting. Each of those films thrilled, entertained, and moved me. But to me, the best film of the year was Bing Liu’s incredibly personal documentary, Minding the Gap. It’s a film I saw back in August but it stuck with me more than anything I’ve seen in a long time.

Minding the Gap tells the story of Liu himself, and of his closest friends from his childhood in Rockford, Illinois. Each came from something of a broken home and turned to skateboarding and each other for an escape from their personal demons. What begins as a movie about kids skateboarding and hanging out becomes a searing look at childhood trauma, the bonds of friendship, and what effect our families can have on us, even as we age into adulthood.

Liu documents each of his subjects with the compassion of a true friend, but he’s not afraid to let his friends do and say bad things on camera, and allow the audience to judge their character for themselves. In a time when people like to make sweeping, grandiose statements about how our country got to this specific place politically, economically, and morally, Minding the Gap opts to focus instead on one specific group of friends– a group of kids who were beaten and neglected and ignored, and take a look at how and why they became the people they have become.

Minding the Gap is available in some theaters, but it’s available to watch everywhere on Hulu, and it’s worth the price of a month’s subscription on its own.

2018 was a rich year for cinema, but in my estimation, nothing topped Minding the Gap.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 18-51: Roma

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine what’s new and old in entertainment.

A new movie recently popped up on your Netflix homepage. It’s called Roma, and it’s director Alfonso Cuarón’s passion project. You may know of Cuarón from Gravity, Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También, or even Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In Roma, he tells the story of Cleo, a young maid in Mexico City during 1970 and 1971. She and her fellow maid, Adela, live with a family and end up being the people most responsible for keeping the home together. They cook, clean, they even help put the kids to bed.

Cuarón has been forthcoming about the fact that the movie was inspired by his own childhood. It’s even dedicated to his family maid, Libo. One of my favorite things about Cuarón is how Cuarón filters his memories through Cleo’s experiences. When the Corpus Christi massacre starts taking place outside the window of a shop Cleo is in, the camera doesn’t shift to show this moment in history. It stays with her, and we follow her back into the world through the chaos. 

Roma is a Best Picture contender and a Best Director contender, but even more important, it’s a masterpiece. You truly get to know and care for Cleo. You understand her struggle. And further, the film is technically brilliant, with beautiful cinematography and featuring such realistic sound design that I actually turned around in the theater on two different occasions, thinking someone was making noise inside the room, when in fact, it was coming through the speakers. It’s a movie that is well-served to be seen in theaters, but if that’s not an option near you, then that’s where that Netflix subscription comes in handy. Roma is now streaming– Just make sure to eliminate distractions and let yourself be swept up in the story. It’s a trip into the past that is worth taking.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 18-42: The Old Man & the Gun Allows Robert Redford to Age Gracefully

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in entertainment.

Movies with bank heists tend to be action-packed movies full of chase sequences and maybe a dramatic shoot-out. What bank robbery films tend not to be are quiet meditations on aging. But that’s exactly what director David Lowery’s latest film, The Old Man and the Gun set out to be.

The Old Man and the Gun gained some press over the last few months because star Robert Redford announced it would be his final film performance. If that holds true remains to be seen, but if it is, it’s a fitting send-off. Redford stars as an aging bank robber, based on the real-life criminal Forrest Tucker. In the film, Tucker is a gentleman stick-em-up artist, a man who wields a gun at banks before complimenting the tellers, calming their fears, and walking out with a bag of cash. The film also follows his budding romance with Jewel, a similarly-aged woman who is not a bank robber, played by Sissy Spacek.

The Old Man and the Gun features several robbery scenes, but never becomes an action film. The music score is relaxing and the film itself is shot on an old filmstock that makes it look like it came from the 70s.

Lowery is probably not a director most audiences know: he’s responsible for the live-action version of Pete’s Dragon as well as the indie darlings Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story. At this point in his career, Lowery’s signature move is being incredibly patient. He lets shots linger a longer than most other directors would and allows silence to hold moments together. These two simple strategies make his movies feel warmer, more lived it. It’s a style I love and one that many people would probably describe as boring. Maybe so, but it works here, and it allows Redford and Spacek both the opportunity to display their incredible acting talents, even late in their careers. Spacek turns in a wonderful performance, but ultimately the movie is most interested in giving Redford a graceful send-off far from the worlds of comic books movies or crime thrillers.

The Old Man and the Gun won’t be a box office juggernaut, but it is incredibly charming, and a must-see for lifelong fans of Robert Redford.

I’m Evan Rook.