If you don’t know yet, I consider myself a cinephile. I love movies. I love escaping into a good story and letting the plot and characters guide me into their world. While it is easy to let viewers into familiar stories with plot lines that do not surprise, I prefer movies that lead into unexpected areas where I am caught off-guard, thrown off-balance, and left with sense of confusion and amazement once I leave the theatre. My preferred movies are not for the average movie goer. They require preparation by not knowing (in most cases) the plot, characters, and settings. The less I know, the better my experience. I love to go into a theatre with a sense of excitement and uncertainty with what the next two hours may hold.
These characteristics combine to create what my wife Angie calls, a “Ric Flick”. Ric Flicks are movies that usually are placed into the category of art-house movies, which is a shame. These movies are some of the best and demand a wider audience appreciation. They demand viewers to think, to not follow the expected story conclusions, and most importantly, to reflect on what was just presented on the screen. Nothing is more satisfying for me than discussing and sharing thoughts on a shared movie experience. Last year, I had the pleasure of viewing the movie “Roma” with my colleague and scholar-brother Paul Eaton. After viewing this beautiful film, I recall both of us immediately sharing deep reflections on the images, the story, and the gorgeous cinematography presented to us. It was a movie that did not leave us immediately. The story opened more doors of contemplation and analysis well after the final credits. I prefer like these – movies that challenge, movies that provide deep introspection, movies that do more than offer explosions and action. These are “Ric Flicks”.
Ric Flicks of 2019
The movies of 2019 did not disappoint. In fact, there are several movies that I’m sure will be on this list once I see them. In no particular order, the movies that I have NOT seen that would likely round out the two movies described on this post include:
I hope to see these movies before the end of the year and I’m sure they will be on my “best of” list for 2019. Viewing their trailers provide some taste of what each story brings to the viewer, which hint at their unique perspectives of the film’s characters.
While I did see a variety of movies, this post will describe two movies that I thought were fantastic movie watching experiences. They definitely fall into two spectrums of movie watching, but both share an uncanny sense of humor among the harshest of environments. While having characteristics of humor, each film dives into heady issues of racism, social class, stereotypes, and inequity in society. I think this is why these films are at the top of my list. Each film deals with these issues in unexpected ways. Whether it is through music or social satire, these movies provided viewers new perspectives on common issues facing all of us today.
These two movies I highly recommend!
“Blinded by the Light”
One of the unexpected surprises of 2019 was “Blinded by the Light”, an uplifting story of an English-born Pakistan teenager who discovers the music and wisdom of Bruce Springsteen.
Javed is an aspiring writer in high school who lives in the economically impoverished working class town of Luton, where unemployment, racism, and white nationalism coexist with dreams of a better life just beyond the city limits. Javed imagines life outside of his hometown. Luton is about 40 miles away from London. Javed is a dreamer and London represents an escape from strife he observes daily in Luton. The films begins with a young Javed sitting on top of a grassy hill with his friend Matt. Both look at the traffic on the freeway below leading drivers toward London. Each promise to one day make it out of Luton to chase their dreams in the big city. Fast forward to 1987 where Javed and Matt are now in high school still chasing their dreams. Matt dreams to be the next New Wave synth superstar (which by the way, the movie’s soundtrack includes some of my favorite English New Wave acts!) and Javed aspires to write. As high school students, their friendship has developed into one where both still believe they can make it out of Luton. At the same time, Javed becomes more keen at the discrimination and racism placed on his family living in working-class England. His family lives in a modest flat where his dad is unemployed and his mother keeps the family afloat as a launderer for the community. Javed’s father can be described as strong willed family man with strong pride for his family and culture, but stubborn to not see the discrimination apparent in his current living situation. Javed tries to keep his own dreams alive, yet he also realizes that his family and community is suffering due to the conservative Thatcher era policies.
Javed is at a crossroads on trying to understand where his life will take him and whether Luton is the place where he belongs for his aspirations to grow. His life path is further tested after he has a encounter with a skinhead who tells him “Pakis” do not belong in Luton. He is frustrated on his current life until one fateful lunch period, his Sikh classmate, Roops, tells him that “The Boss” understands their world. Javed questions Roops and his belief that the songs of Bruce Springsteen can help him navigate all of his life situations. Roops, determined to convince Javed, proceeds to loan Javed his cassettes (this is the 80s) of “Born in the USA” and “Born to Run”. Later that evening, Javed listens to the tapes on his Walkman and thus, begins his journey of self-discovery and cultural pride with the assistance of Bruce Springsteen.
What I loved about this movie was how the director, Gurinda Chadha, visualizes how Javed sees and interprets the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. His first listen of “Dancing in the Dark” is portrayed as a montage of seeing the lyrics of despair and desire circling Javed’s headphones and eventually spiraling into a literal whirlwind of thoughts and ideas that spin his writings out of his bedroom window. The director’s creativeness in portraying Javed’s enthusiasm in discovering that Roops was right and that Springsteen’s lyrics reflected his plight and challenges was brilliant to watch. Throughout the movie, the songs of Bruce Springsteen show up at pivotal moments of Javed’s personal development. Song lyrics are flashed on the side of buildings throughout Luton, lyrics follow Javed as he walks the streets, and lyrics appear larger than life in tunnels and walls following Javed. The director’s Indian movie culture of Bollywood appears also within the movie. One of these Bollywood touches can be found in the scene where Javed and Roops try to have their school radio station play Bruce Springsteen. The head DJ, who sees their music as not as hip as the current synth pop of that time, refuses to allow them to play Springsteen. What follows is a homage to both teen movies of the 80s and Bollywood joyfulness where dance and song break out spontaneously using “Born to Run” as the soundtrack:
To describe in detail what occurs throughout the movie would take away the joy and pain that the characters experience in the story. “Blinded by the Light” gave me pure joy on the power of music and a reminder that the injustices faced by immigrant communities in the 1980s still lives today worldwide. Music, however, knows no boundaries and the cross-cultural interactions between Javed and the music of Bruce Springsteen are the surprises that made this one of my favorite films of 2019. The movie also surprised me with life in working-class England during the late 1980s. The hardships that not only Javed’s family encounters, but also his childhood friend Matt and others in the film stand out in letting viewers understand why something like music allows them to continue to dream and to become resilient. Javed comes to own his Pakistani identity and working-class background. He realizes that Bruce Springsteen empowers him to fight back against those who not only share his musical passion, but also those who look to oppress him.
Upon viewing the film, I looked up the book upon which the movie is based on. The writer, Sarfraz Manzoor and his memoir Greetings from Bury Park is on my 2020 book read list. I found the movie to connect to my own experience as a Mexican American growing up in a similar working-class town and neighborhood – Euless, Texas. My preference to the 80s synth pop of the Pet Shop Boys, the Eurythmics, New Order, and Depeche Mode (to name a few) was largely due how the music spoke to those who were introverted and on the fringes of the preppie and materialistic youth culture of that time. I definitely did not match the “goth New Wave” image, but the music and lyrics of these groups spoke to me. I owned my Mexican identity, but I also owned my lonely, shy, somewhat reclusive self and my upbringing in an area of the suburbs that did not have the levels of income surrounding it. “Blinded by the Light” reminded me of my youth and personal development in the 80s. I highly recommend it to be reminded of the power of music and The Boss.
Where to begin with my #1 pick for 2019, Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite”? It’s an extremely dark comedy, it’s a biting commentary on social class and how we treat those at lower and upper levels of income, it’s a tragedy at the highest levels, and it’s confounding, providing one of the strangest “WTF” moments on film. I loved it and it is definitely a film that requires thinking and deep reflection after viewing:
The less I write about this movie, the better it is to not spoil any of the many surprises found in this brilliant film. The trailer gives the slightest of peeks on the many twists and turns found in this movie.
I found this movie to have three acts: the plan, the plan played out, and what happens when a plan vanishes? The idea of having a “well thought-out plan” is a theme found in the movie. Obviously, when you view the movie trailer, you can sense that the story involves how one family infiltrates another to find financial opportunities. Oh, that is just the tip of the iceberg! While that is a primary focus, the movie actually is a biting satire on how social class dictates the human psyche. Who are the victims in the movie? Those taking advantage of those more fortunate or those who take advantage of the labor and work of those in the lower rungs so that upper-class individuals can enjoy the comforts provided to them. When viewing the movie, you start to believe that the film portrays this theme vividly….then the rug gets pulled completely under you in the third act.
What the third act has will have you re-evaluating the entire storyline. However, the theme of social class still is apparent. The movie is titled “Parasite” and what you know about parasites from biology or other science courses is probably helpful in providing a symbolic interpretation of the movie. In some reviews and essays on the film, I read that parasites live off their hosts and there is a constant competition on who will get the most from the host when other parasites are found. Thus, the real question of this movie is who exactly is the “host”? One minor spoiler is that the house where the wealthy Park family lives is, in my opinion, a major character in the film. I will leave it at that and do know that the house, while splendid in its modern architecture, is a house filled with laughter, secrets, horror, and tragedy. In some way, houses across all social classes have these elements. How we deal with them as humans provides a real look at our humanity. Happiness can be found in a sub-basement apartment and terror can be found in a multimillion dollar mansion. “Parasite” reminds the viewer that just when a well thought out plan appears to be working, sometimes having no plan might be the best route to take. When you watch “Parasite”, I recommend going in with no plan and see how you come out after viewing.
In my Facebook post immediately after viewing the film, I have it a rare “two thumbs up and two toes up”, which means this was a definite “Ric Flick”. One that I will enjoy viewing again.
It was a good movie year and I know some good flicks will be coming in 2020. Some popular and “Ric Flicks” already on my radar include:
- Color Out of Space
- Wonder Woman: 1984
- In the Heights
I’m looking forward to watching stories that take me to unexpected and surprising places.