Saturday, August 8, 2020

On Quarantine and Chill

When life gives you quarantine, make chill. At least, that's been the motto for much of the world for the last however many months it's been. As bad as the epidemic has been for the world, the silver lining (and to be clear, it's a very small silver lining) has been the chance to catch up on and expand my pop culture literacy. Here are my thoughts on what I've been watching during the quarantine, in no particular order.

The Grapes of Wrath: Every year, the night before the Oscars I watch a classic movie (preferably a best picture nominee) that I haven't seen before; this year I snacked on grapes and watched Henry Fonda go west. So technically I watched this about a month and a half before we started actually taking covid seriously. But I wanted to mention it here because I can't help but think of it every time I walk outside and feel like I'm in a ghost town. Jim Casy's transformation into a socialist has deep parallels to how many Americans have been forced to re-think whether our economy really "works". The scene that I thought was the peak of the movie, and the one that sticks with me even more through the pandemic, is the one at the diner: the waitress sells the Joads peppermint sticks for 2-a-penny; when they leave, a customer remarks that the sticks normally go for a nickel apiece. Both then and now, the only way a society can survive a crisis and remain functional is if each of us make sacrifices for the common good.

In this Corner of the World: When this movie came out in the United States I made plans to see it with a friend, but I bailed at the last minute because I was stressed about grad school; I've been haunted by that decision for years. When covid shut down society, I figured it was the perfect time to mark this movie off my watchlist. And it was pretty much everything I hoped for and expected: the importance of finding joy, comfort, and love even when the world is crumbling around us. If anything, those are all we have.

  • So, I obviously liked this show. An alternate history fiction set in the post-WW2 era may as well have been written for me. Overall, I think this show was wonderful, but it squandered some potential in a couple of ways.
  • The biggest issue with the show is that Joe is a useless character. What's so frustrating is that on several occasions the show actually does the work of having Joe experience transformative events that cause him to re-think his worldview and come ohsoclose to realizing a full character arc. But without fail, the show always had Joe snap back into being a limp noodle who sways with the Nazi wind. I was truly baffled. I think the show would have worked better if Joe had seen one of the films and been moved to rekindle his American pride and flip from being a Nazi double agent to a resistance double agent (would that make him a double-double agent? a triple agent?)
  • Tagomi waking in a free 1950s America partying to the voice Chubby Checker is the exact kind of iconography that strikes a chord deep in my soul. But that also illustrates an issue with the first three seasons. I've never read the original novel, but my understanding is that in it, the Nazi takeover of America fundamentally changes certain aspects of our history - but it also preserves other aspects; this is done intentionally, to make the point that defeating the Nazis didn't absolve all our sins. Intentionally or not, I think the first three seasons of the show miss this theme.
  • By contrast, the show leveled up in the fourth season with the introduction of black characters whose oppression predated the Nazis. I thought the show was more compelling when the stakes changed from restoring America to reimagining it. I also thought the conflict over whether to treat our former oppressors with mercy or revenge was one of the most interesting conflicts of the show's run.
  • Overall, the show's political drama was thrilling. The writers did a great job of showing how smothering, but ultimately unsustainable fascism is. Dangling that level of power in front of people breeds massive paranoia. Furthermore, once you rationalize killing certain "other" people, you can justify killing anyone - including your own citizens who could otherwise be productive members of society.
Ozark: I think this show was initially trying to be Netflix's Breaking Bad, but eventually settled on being House of Cards 2.0. I think it works, mostly because Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are are way less campy than Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.

  • Probably my favorite new show of the quarantine, because of how thoroughly it explores the nuances and non-monotonicity of the (millennial) black experience.  The show talks about racism, but also respectability politics, colorism, separatism, and intersectionality; but it never feels preachy, because all the themes are established through conflict rather than speeches.
  • Seasons 1 and 2 are flawless; season 3 is not. I think the third season struggled under the weight of too many disconnected characters and subplots. What's frustrating is that I think the season had potential. It could have been great if it centered everything around intersectional feminism. 
  • The Troy/Abigail pairing was particularly underused in season 3. It's easy to envision a season in which Troy learns how to empathize with Abigail by connecting the experience of being the only black writer in the room with the experience of being the only female writer in the room. This could have culminated with Troy taking Muffy's side over Reggie's.
  • I find it hard to believe that Sam wouldn't be more outraged over Gabe pulling an Elizabeth Warren for the grant application. When he first did that I honestly thought the writers were setting up an eventual breakup.
  • I knew about this show when it came out, and I still don't have a good reason why I waited so long to see it. But after the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, I couldn't wait any longer.
  • I love that this movie dives deep into layers upon layers of barriers that black brown people must navigate in their quest for justice.
  • Anti-black police brutality has come under the microscope recently, but the issue goes deeper than the police; the entire legal system is broken. In theory, prosecutors should be after the truth; in reality, what they're after is convictions (and really, a good story). And when you convince yourself that certain people are animals, caging them in service of your conviction record doesn't keep you up at night.
  • Once you get past the legal system, the incarceration system forms another layer of oppression. By making visitation so hard and expensive, and by tolerating inmate on inmate violence, we aren't actually promoting meaningful rehabilitation.
  • I've theorized that people often fall for "tough on crime" dogwhistles because the prospect of letting a murderer or rapist walk free seems far more dangerous than putting an innocent civilian in jail. This show demonstrates the fallacy in that thinking. The prison violence and familial separation is bad enough; but even once you get out, that mistake haunts you indefinitely because it's so hard to get a job or otherwise reintegrate into society. Now, I'm not arguing that people who commit crimes shouldn't face consequences (although I think there's room for debate on whether imprisonment is the most productive form of justice); but administering harsh penalties comes with a responsibiliity o take the utmost precaution in who we send to penalize. That necessarily includes being hyper-vigilant about our own individual and societal biases. 
  • Korey's sister dying before Korey could get out of jail was the most heartbreaking moment for me. It's obviously crushing on an individual level when you see how close the two were; but what kills me is that our country's anti-blackness had collateral damage by depriving the LGBTQ+ community of a much-needed ally.
  • The main plots didn't do very much for me; if you've seen The Edge of Seventeen, you already know most of Devi's story beats. I found the supporting characters' stories much more interesting.
  • I found Ben's characterization confusing. Initially he's brash and competitive, but it seems like all of that disappeared starting with the episode told from his perspective.
  • Overall, the show falls apart at the end because Nalini's character motivations are so underdeveloped. Devi often made me feel exasperated, but I always fully understood why she made the choices that she did, and had no trouble tracking her emotional growth. By contrast, I rarely felt like I understood what her mom felt, wanted, or needed. Why on earth was she so fed up and out of patience with Devi? I highly doubt that Devi misplacing her sheet music was enough for Nalini to give up on her relationship with her daughter. But what exactly were the other straws? From everything we know, Devi had always been a highly motivated and accomplished student, and her rebellious streak supposedly started only after her father died. And how on earth could she possibly think it would be productive to send Devi to India?
  • When Devi said she wished her mom had been the one that died, I obviously didn't condone it, but I emphathized. I never felt that empathy for Nalini, because the show doesn't do enough to earn empathy for her.
John Tucker Must Die: This sexist garbage is the thing that must die. Whoever wrote it appears to think that women are A) idiots and B) literally incapable of playing sports because of their hormones.

  • This movie was poorly written and painfully predictable, and there are a lot of subplots that never serve any function in the movie.
  • I'll be honest, I don't think Alexis Bledel is all that great of an actress. Don't get me wrong, she was perfect for Rory Gilmore - her facial expressions and vocal intonations are right for Rory's bookish and instinctively reserved personality. But maybe she was a little too perfect; when she tries to show just a little range in this movie it falls flat. That said I'm sure she has more acting talent in her pinkie than I do in my body, and playing one iconic character is one more than most actresses can dream of.
How do you Know: Incomprehensible, and not in a fun way.

Something Borrowed: This should've been renamed "Something Cliched". This movie throws every single romcom cliche against the wall and none of them stick. The only unpredictable part of the movie was guessing which cliche they would go with at the end. It doesn't help that the male lead has all the personality of a pet rock.

Zootopia: I worked for a mathematics camp for 8th graders this summer, and this is one of the movies that we watched during activity time. I have gushed about Zootopia multiple times in this space, so I won't rehash what I love about it. What I was looking for this time was to see if a movie about cops and prejudice aged poorly in light of our society's collective critical reexamination of racism and police brutality. While I understand and respect why some may instinctively reject any movie with a cop protagonist, I also don't think this can be characterized as copaganda. The movie clearly shows that Judy possesses her own biases that are amplified by the police culture and media sensationalism. When she realizes the impact of her words on Nick and predators like him, she turns in her badge, declaring that police should only exist to serve and protect their communities. She eventually grows, but not without doing the hard work of confronting her biases head on. In my original review of the movie I stated that I wish the movie had included a police brutality metaphor (and perhaps ended with Nick rejecting the chance to join the ZPD). But I don't think you can say this movie glorifies police by any means.

Ultimately, this movie has some holes if you try to fit int cleanly into a metaphor of racism and race relations. The sexism metaphor definitely works more cleanly But as a more abstract, kid-friendly metaphor for prejudice, acceptance, and inclusivity, I still think the movie is sublime.

Believe it or not, before the quarantine yours truly had never seen either of these two iconic romantic comedies. I think I like It Happened One Night better, because I felt like the relationship between the two leads was much healthier and more satisfying. But overall I had fun seeing the origins of a lot of the staples of the genre in these two movies.

Sabrina: Another classic that had somehow slipped through my net all these years. My girlfriend was drawn to this one mainly because of Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn. Little did she know that the star of the movie never actually appears on screen. This is far from Billy Wilder's funniest movie, but it's still a reminder that he is the GOAT screenwriter. Nobody wrote (or writes) wittier repartee.

Desperados: By far the worst movie I watched all of quarantine. In fact, this is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. The characters are idiots. Calling the plot contrived would be incredibly generous. The few competent parts of the movie are predictable. None of the humor works. This movie will ruin your ability to enjoy dolphins. DO NOT GIVE THIS MOVIE MORE VIEWS.

  • I followed Silicon Valley from the time it premiered, and I always enjoyed it. I kept up with the first three seasons religiously. When we started quarantining I needed things to watch and knew I would probably enjoy the three remaining seasons. I also was a huge fan of the Social Network when I first saw it, and I thought it would be fun to re-watch it in light of Facebook's increased public scrutiny. I also thought my girlfriend, a Bay Area native, would probably be curious both of these. We had a blast with these, and to my delight, I ended up enjoying both of them even better than I originally remembered.
  • A couple months ago in this space I called The Social Network a modern retelling of Citizen Kane, and I still feel that way. It's about a man whose endless pursuit of power got him everything...except for the one thing he actually wanted. But I think the other natural comparison is to The Great Gatsby, because of the conflict between old and new money.
  • The scene that cross cuts between the frat parties and Mark's dorm room impresses me more and more every time. It so effortlessly establishes the contradiction that drives Mark - he thinks he's above the people at the parties, and yet he would kill to be in their number. It also shows how our society's treatment of women gets constant software updates that don't actually fix any of the bugs.
  • When we started watching Silicon Valley I assumed I would laugh something like 90% as much/hard as the first time. I was wrong; I laughed way harder at the jokes this time through. I think binging the show gave me greater appreciation for how the jokes were built up over the course of multiple episodes. I also love how much of the humor comes the characters being believably awful, and not unrealistically witty; this makes it feel more organic than the typical sitcom (side note: Veep tries this too, but to me the characters are not believably awful). I also think a lot of the jokes hit harder now because a lot more of the industry's seedy underbelly has been exposed since 2014.
  • I think it was smart of the show to lean into Richard's narcissism and hubris. It felt like the natural, perhaps inevitable development. But I find it impossible to believe that any of the team members would still want to work with Richard after the events of season four. That this was hand-waved away felt unsatisfying.
  • Even the smallest details, jokes or mishaps always seemed to balloon into delightful plot twists. Each season is so cohesive that it honestly felt like the writers locked themselves into a room and didn't leave until they had finished writing the whole season.
  • I prefer spaces over tabs 🤷‍♂️ 
  • The writing in this show is textbook. The writers put so much thought into developing all of the conflicts and resolutions, so that all of character growth feels organic and properly motivated. Take the pilot: we see A) Kristy's driven, assertive personality B) how this leads her to act towards her mom and her friends C) how this harms herself and the people she cares about D) how this motivates her to be more open-minded and empathetic. This sounds simple until you see how sloppy other movies and TV shows get with story function.
  • I love when pop culture that is made for kids still treats its audience with respect. Just like Zootopia, this show never feels the need to resort to goofy slapstick or hyperactive dialogue to carry the viewer's attention. The characters aren't stupid or flat - they're fully developed people with wants, needs, virtues, and vices. I particularly like that the dialogue captures Gen-Z's digitized worldview and innate social justice literacy in a way that doesn't feel forced or performative (the way it did in Booksmart); Kristy disputes sexist behavioral double standards and Mary Anne advocates for respecting Billy's gender identity, but they do so in ways that feel like sincere expressions of their own lived experiences; the actresses never feel like mouthpieces for some ultra-woke screenwriter.

When my girlfriend saw that Netflix had added Avatar, she really wanted to watch it based on how many of her friends had raved about it. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this show in college but hadn't re-watched it since then, so I was also down to binge through it. This show holds up marvelously. The world-building is so thorough and meticulous, without any of the rules of the universe ever feeling arbitrary or convenient. All of the characters have 3-dimensional personalities that pop off the screen. The show toggles effortlessly between whimsy and gravity without any of the tonal shifts feeling jarring. Through Zuko, the show doesn't just denounce toxic masculinity - it actually deconstructs it and offers solutions. This show is still the gold standard for animated TV.

Newton's third law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. After I finished watching the TV show, I took the plunge and watched the movie. This movie's reputation precedes it, and I never expected it to be halfway decent. But it was oh so much worse than I expected. Waaaaayyyyy worse.
  • None of the names are pronounced correctly. Like, Sokka is pronounced "SOAK-uh". How on earth do you mess that up?
  • In the show, the water tribe appeared to be a stand in for Inuit society, and fire nation for the Empire of Japan. I think most people would have moved on if Shyamalan had decided not to be too ethnically rigid in his casting. Instead, he maintained rigid casting, but in a bizarre and contrarian way. The three protagonists are white and the fire nation actors are all South Asian. I...don't get it.
  • Prince Zuko's scar is barely noticeable in the movie. But I can forgive this; after all in the TV show the scar had very little importance besides, you know, being Zuko's main distinguishing feature and a symbol of his deep emotional trauma.
  • None of the three protagonists can act. In fact, my understanding is that Noah Ringer, who played Aang, was cast strictly for his martial arts skills and not his actual acting chops.
  • Sokka never cracks a single joke, which is in contrast to literally every single episode ever made.
  • The script completely fails at staying even remotely faithful to the source material. It'd be easier to list the thing they got right.
  • The CGI is, to put it nicely, inadequate. Water benders don't even look like they can control water, and Appa looks grotesque.
  • Everything is exposition. The entire script is characters telling you what they are doing/will do instead of actually doing anything. Shyamalan is not exactly a master word-bender here.
  • Bending looks less like a martial art and more like dance dance revolution. I hope the choreographer got paid handsomely.
  • The set pieces are straight up laughable. Like, I literally laughed out loud at how bad they are. They action moves at a snail's pace because Shyamalan insisted on doing super long takes with no cuts. I'm not kidding when I say the fights look like they're in slow motion.
This is a truly incompetent movie.

Love Wedding Repeat: Why do we do weddings? What makes love worth celebrating in such an opulent manner? Well, for every timeline where love works out, there are 1000 timelines where things could go horribly wrong.

About Time: Is Rachel McAdams contractually obligated to play every single time traveller's wife?

During the quarantine I watched the original and the latest time loop movie. I thought both were great. At their core, stories are (generally) about characters encountering new situations, making choices, facing the consequences, and growing as a result. Groundhog day's greatness is in the creativity of using the time loop as the impetus for the character growth. It works because the film establishes the protagonist's clear need for growth, and increases the stakes by removing death as an escape. The ultimate sign of the movie's success is its parade of imitators.

Palm Springs borrows the time loop formula while adding something new: a shared time loop. We get to see how different characters respond differently being stuck, and it's not enough for each individual to change - they have to affect positive change in each other. In this case Nyles needs to convince Sarah to learn to take responsibility for how her actions affect others, and Sarah needs to convince Nyles that genuine connection requires and merits uncomfortable risks.

Straight Up: One of the most delightful moviegoing experiences is seeing the debut of a visionary filmmaker. Think Reservoir Dogs, Slacker, Get Out - you watch it and you see a director who "gets" filmmaking and has full control of his/her aesthetic. I really think that James Sweeney's movie falls into this category. Sweeney knows exactly how to make the camera tells the story he wants. Todd's world is stable, symmetric, and rigid; Rory's world is fluid and uncertain. When Rory enters Todd's orbit, it's Todd's perspective that wins out 100% of the time; this shows how seamlessly Rory can fit with Todd, but in doing so she's sacrificing a large part of what makes her her.

In one scene Todd and Rory nervously make plans to finally consummate their relationship. It cuts to night, and Rory remarks on how quickly the time flew. It's one of the most inspired and effective edits that I've seen in recent memory.

Like Moonlight, this movie has a delightful blend of specificity and universality. The specificity comes from exploring the nuances of LGBTQ+ relationships in a way that goes deeper than the gay/straight binary. But it carries the universal theme of the aching insufficiency of intellectual compatibility. As much as we'd like to think relationships are puzzles based on clean, geometric fit...they simply aren't.

Ryan Murphy's style may not work for you, but when you get into the substance, I think you'll find a really trenchant satire of just how performative our modern politics are. We often complain about politics being filled with rotten apples - but the problem is that politics makes the apples rotten.

Season 2 is a big step up for the show, with one caveat. I really like that in season 1, Payton wins and then learns how hard it is to convert political capital into real change. I hate that season 2 ends with pure wish fulfillment. It would have been so much more subversive to have him encounter orders of magnitude more cynicism when he actually arrives in Albany.

  • A wildly popular president inherited an economy on life support; the economy made a recovery, though not a booming one; a well known celebrity seizes the opportunity to supplant the incumbent party; he campaigns on keeping America out of war, as well as an intentionally vague idea of restoring America to its former greatness; media members and upper middle class voters dismiss the possibility that America would be hoodwinked by someone so uncouth, inexperienced, and fraudulent; instead, nativist and white nationalist support propels a celebrity into the white house. This events could describe Donald Trump's stunning presidential victory - but it actually describes David Simon's alternate history in which Charles Lindbergh (an infamous anti-semite) defeats Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election.
  • The theme of the show is simple: if you give fascists an inch, they'll take a country.
  • The Levin family are hardworking, patriotic, and emblematic of the American Dream; Alvin Levin is a literal war hero; Rabbi Bengelsdorf does everything short of building a Lindbergh statue at his synagogue. It doesn't matter. You can't reason with bigots.
  • My main gripe with the show is that it makes passing references to people being drawn to Lindbergh because of either anti-war fatigue, or dissatisfaction with the magnitude of Roosevelt's economic recovery. I really think the show would have benefitted from bringing these sentiments into the foreground, as a sort of bad omen.

Love Life: I watched this for Anna Kendrick, and there's a lot I liked about it. I like that the show takes Darby's friendships and career as seriously as it takes her titular love life. I think it's refreshing that Darby's arc was to learn that she didn't need a significant other for her life to be fulfilling and complete. I really just wish that the narration had always turned the subtext into text.

  • I actually tried watching this in December and quit after 1 minute because of the laugh track. When quarantine came around, and we were desperate for anything to watch, we decided to power through this.
  • I wish I could have been in the room when they came up with that title. Like...what?
  • This show uses the same production quality and directors as many CBS sitcoms. I was shocked to learn that it wasn't made by CBS.
  • This show was awful. The humor is terrible, and I can't believe we're still being spoonfed the "gruff conservative helicopter dad" archetype as the protagonist in 2020.
Miracle: My girlfriend (who has actually visited Lake Placid) I watched this on the morning of July 4th. This movie never fails to delight me. I get that it's cliched, but that's because the original game brought every cliche to life.

Oddly enough, this movie actually epitomizes why I love college football so much. When the American hockey team went to Lake Placid it was about so much more than the final score. It was about defending our turf; it was about validating our culture, our ideology, and our way of life. And that sense of geopolitical conflict is there when regional powers meet in college football. I say that this is unique to college football for two reasons: first, I believe football rosters, by virtue of their size, comprise a higher percentage of regional recruits than other sports; second, in America football is, more than any other sport, seen as an extension of one's masculinity, toughness and character. Thus, when USC plays Alabama, or when Nebraska plays Miami, the battle isn't just an athletic one, but a sociocultural one as well.

I had been meaning to watch these movies for awhile because they are so well-reviewed. When quarantined turned us all into streaming junkies, my girlfriend (who had seen and loved Paddington 2 on an airplane), insisted that we needed to see these two movies. And as we expected, I absolutely loved them. The movie does a brilliant job of making Paddington's relationship with his aunt and uncle feel real, lived-in, and personal. Even though we only see Pastuzo for the first few minutes, his death feels crushing - and the marmalade immediately becomes an enduring symbol of his legacy. The set pieces in the movie are hilarious without being cartoonish; all of Paddington's clumsy acts build on each other in such creative ways, almost like some sort grotesque Rube Goldberg. But these clumsy blunders make it all the more triumphant when the family is able to not just accept but embrace Paddington and all the positive energy he brings to the world.

I loved both movies, but I particularly loved the first one because I had NO idea that it was going to be so subversive. Paddington's quest for acceptance is pretty much a mirror image of the struggle that all immigrants face. The rhetoric against letting bears into London is virtually indistinguishable from the rhetoric against letting too many refugees into Europe (which was a big hot button issue when this movie came out in 2015). The explorers denounce bears as uncivilized savages - sound familiar? The marmalade is a symbol of Paddington's relationship to Pastuzo, but it's also a symbol of the world we could have had if European powers had prioritized collaboration or colonization. What's kind of funny is that Paddington was so subversive that I was, perhaps unfairly, a little disappointed that Paddington 2 didn't critique the prison industrial complex.

Paddington is, to my surprising delight, my favorite movie about the immigrant experience - with one two notable exceptions...

  • Some background: my girlfriend and I both had similar experiences with The Godfather. We went into it expecting to admire and respect it it, but we both ended up falling in love with the movie more than we could have possibly imagined. Everything about the movie is perfect on a technical, intellectual, and emotional level. The cinematography alone is legendary for how it tells you everything you need to know about every character and scene. The performances create characters with whom I never want to stop spending time. It's THE movie about the immigrant experience, and what it takes to make it in America. Michael's arc highlights the tragedy and inevitability of succession. The baptism might be the greatest scene in cinema. I really could talk for hours about why I love The Godfather.
  • My girlfriend had not seen The Godfather Part II before, so I insisted on making it part of our quarantine watchlist. Part II is the rare sequel that actually expands on its predecessor's themes rather than just rehashing them. While I like the first movie better overall, the flashbacks to young Vito are my absolute favorite scenes of the entire trilogy.
  • I truly, truly believe that both Vito wanted to make an honest life in America. I believe Michael when he tells Kay he doesn't want the crime life. And I believe Vito when he says he never wanted the crime life for Michael. But I also believe the crime life chose them. America, and American capitalism, forces immigrants to take control of their fate. This is established in Bonasera's monologue, Senator Geary's xenophobia, and Don Fanucci's ability to extort his Italian countrymen for whom the police is no recourse. For Vito, by unfortunate extension Michael, staking out the turf necessitated dirty hands.
  • Something that always hooks me about the opening of The Godfather is how the wedding is so unapologetically ethnic. And this makes proportionally tragic to see how sterile and WASPy Michael's son's communion is.
  • I love the brassy cinematography of the flashback scenes. For me, it evokes the sunrise, and I like to tell myself that it symbolizes the awakening of both the Corleone empire and the American industrial empire.
  • An underrated scene is the one in which Vito, after having lost his job, comes home in despair. Carmela, sensing his despair, remarks that the pear he brought home is quite nice. They sit at the table and clasp hands fondly. The room is very dark, but there's just enough light to illuminate the young couple. This simple interaction shows all the love and affection that made Vito and Carmela's (and it highlights what Michael and Kay lost in Michael's insatiable quest for power). The scene also spoke to me because it effortlessly captured the intertwined exhilaration and precariousness that define youth. Because Vito and Carmela were still early in their marriage, their love, like the one light in dining room, still burned bright enough to sustain them through any deficit of material wealth. If anything, the precarious nature of youth makes the small victories (like a gorgeous pear) that much more thrilling, tender, and magnetic. 
  • The Festa, and the murder of Don Fanucci, is my absolute favorite part of the trilogy. The crucifixion imagery is perfect in contrast with birth of Vito as Godfather, the rebirth and salvation of neighborhood, the consummation of Vito's original sin, and the death of Vito's ties to the moral world. The dual flags, and the dual anthems, feel so true to the duality of the immigrant experience; we're always walking a tightrope trying to prove ourselves to our countries old and new. The dollar bills on the crucifix symbolize how American religion was swallowed up by American capitalism. The background music is used expertly to first foreshadow Fanucci's fate, and then celebrate the town's liberation.
  • One of the best parts of the flashbacks is that we get to see exactly how Vito's children took on their father's traits. When we first meet Sonny he's sitting on a rug that Vito stole, foreshadowing Sonny's attraction to the crime life; when Vito refuses to pay Don Fanucci's comission, he's displaying the brashness, vigor, and intense devotion to the family that we see in Sonny. When we first meet Fredo he's being treated for pneumonia in the first of a life of mishaps; when Vito flexes his new muscles to help an old lady avoid being evicted, he's channeling the same compassion and softness that he passed on to Fredo. We first meet Michael during the festa, right after Don Fanucci's murder. Vito wanted the blessed life for Michael, but he was destined to be Vito's criminal protege. We see the roots of Michael's ruthlessness and cunning in the way Vito murders Don Fanuci: he stalks him from the rooftops, wraps his gun in a towel and times the gunshot with the fireworks in order to mask the sound, and he disposes of the gun parts in different chimneys.
  • The scene at the end, in which Michael announces his decision to join the military, is so heartbreaking and resonant. Heartbreaking because Fredo is the only one who supports and encourages Michael; resonant because it epitomizes the way that we first gens tend to identify most strongly with our American roots, much to our parents' collective chagrin. Vito was running a Sicilian family business; Michael was running an American corporation.
  • If you are a fan of Jane the Virgin, keep an eye out for a blink-and-you-miss-her appearance by Ivonne Coll (aka Alba).