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Bonus Edition: Holiday movies

 December 21, 2023 at 12:21 PM PST

EPISODE BONUS: Holiday Movies

TRT 23:40


BETH ACCOMANDO Welcome to a special bonus holiday edition of listener supported KPBS Cinema Junkie, I’m Beth Accomando.


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BETH ACCOMANDO Christmas is traditionally the biggest day at the box office for Hollywood. Plus, studios tend to hold all their big Oscar hopeful films for the end of the year. So I have Yazdi Pithavala here, and we have decided to head out to cinemas to shop for the best movies to unwrap this holiday weekend. So welcome, Yazdi.


YAZDI PITHAVALA Thank you, Beth.


BETH ACCOMANDO Our main purpose in doing this is that we wanted to make sure that you did not get a lump of coal this holiday season. So we have put together a cinematic shopping list. And let's start by pointing out those lumps of coal that you might want to avoid so they don't ruin your holiday season. Yasi, do you have a lump of coal to avoid?


YAZDI PITHAVALA I don't have an absolutely ghastly film, but I did watch a lot of films this year from directors who I respect a lot, who made films which were pretty disappointing. And top of my list is Taika Waititi's Next Goal Wins, which I think really doesn't do anything new to the sports movie genre. So it was a big disappointment.


BETH ACCOMANDO All right. As we all know, I am far more curmudgeonly than you are. And I have a few lumps of coal on my list. I would say Michael Mann's Ferrari, even though I love Michael Mann. Rebel Moon, which is Zack Snyder's take on Star Wars. But if you suck out all the joy. And Wonka. Now, Wonka is a very bright and energetic lump of coal. And you would probably disagree with me on that one.


YAZDI PITHAVALA I was in the same place that you were. But then the film very, very grudgingly won me over, mostly because it's made by those who made the two Paddington movies, which I absolutely adore.


BETH ACCOMANDO All right, now on to our holiday treats. We both feel that movies are best appreciated in a cinema and with an audience. So let's begin with some films that people can actually go out to see in the theater, on the big screen. And let's start at the top with Yorgos Lanthimos' Poor Things. And this is sort of a reimagining of the Frankenstein story. And here's the trailer.


CLIP No, she's an experiment. Good evening. Her brain and her body are not quite synchronized, but she's progressing at an accelerated pace.


BETH ACCOMANDO So this film is at the top of both of our lists. What is it about the film in particular that appealed to you?


YAZDI PITHAVALA We've all watched a lot of films this year, Beth, and maybe in my old age, I'm getting a little impatient with movies that play too safe movies that are in a particular mold and just follow the beaten track. And so when a movie comes along which is really not playing it safe, which is breaking every rule, which is constantly surprising you, I embrace it. And such was the case with poor things. This particular director, Yorgos Lanthimos, we've seen him make some pretty remarkable movies, but the one aspect that I had not seen in a Yorgos Lanthimos movie before was this visual. You know, please, Hollywood, give him more money, because if this is what he can do visually, if he's given more finances, all power to him, this is just candy for the eyes.


BETH ACCOMANDO Well, I have to confess that this was one of the first films I watched when I was preparing for my voting for critics groups. And after seeing this, everything else paled by comparison. This was just so impressive and so fresh and so original. I mean, that's the thing that I love, is a film that takes you someplace completely new, artistically or narratively. One of the things I like about this director is that, and this is something that has hooked me from the beginning, from Dogtooth, which was about a father who keeps his children, adult children, locked up and away from the world. But what I love about his films is that he never tries to comfort or accommodate the audience. He drops us into a world that he's created and just lets us put the pieces together. We have to figure out in the lobster that humans are reincarnated as animals. In this film, it's a scientist who has kind of created or reanimated someone from the dead, and we have to start putting the pieces together. And so he creates these worlds and sets us adrift. And it's just such a wonderful feeling to go on this journey of discovery with him.


YAZDI PITHAVALA Yeah. The great thing about Lanthimos is that he never, ever panders to the audience. He does not tell you how you should be feeling or what you should be thinking. And like you said, beth, in each of his movies, he creates this unusual, unseen world with its own set of rules. But then that movie very rigorously sticks by those rules, as absurd as they might seem. The other thing which I really liked about this film, compared to his earlier work, is that this is a director who has a lot of contempt for humankind as a whole. So there's a lot of cruelty that would kind of seep into his scripts. But his last movie, the favorite with Olivia Coleman, and this one is from an adapted screenplay written by someone else. And so that allows him to kind of be a little bit more, let's say, enthusiastic about the state of humanity.


BETH ACCOMANDO A little lighter.


YAZDI PITHAVALA A little lighter. And there is humor, and there is actually laugh out loud humor, and not just bleak, dark humor. There's a little scene in the movie where they're all at a dance party and they're all dancing. And that little scene is like the best depiction of joy of any movie I've seen this year. And that's saying something coming from this director.


BETH ACCOMANDO And so one of the things about this film, too, is it reminded me a little bit of Jeff Bridges in Starman. This is kind of a take on Frankenstein. Like Jeff Bridges in Starman, Emma Stone's character is kind of like coming to this world fresh and trying to figure out how to be human, how to behave in the proper way, or how to even understand what the world is like. And a bit like candide. She feels a bit like an innocent because it feels like she's freshly born into this world, knowing nothing and discovering the good, the bad, the enjoyable, the horrific. And we're along on that journey. And it is a film that is just so visually spectacular and enticing. And it was a joy to watch. And this is probably the happiest of.


YAZDI PITHAVALA His films by a mile. I love that this movie, if it is nothing else, it's really the arc of this character, Bella Baxter, played by Emma Stone, where she starts from being a child like creature who can't even walk or talk all the way through her reacting with the world, reacting to everybody wanting things from her or taking things from her, and her kind of asserting herself, deterministically asserting herself, sexually asserting herself as somebody interacting with other people in the world. And so the whole movie is this arc, and it sits on Emma Stone's shoulder and she's very, very willing and able. And I think one of the other things about this movie, know now that Lanthimos is pretty mainstream. With all those Oscar nominations that his last movie, the favorite got, he's able to relin some pretty big name actors. And in this movie, they all jump off the cliff with him gleefully and to very, very good results. I also like the fact that this movie is so frank and so open about sexuality. I'm just tired that we've become so puritanical that we would rather watch hundred heads blow up, but God forbid somebody's naked for a long period of time in a film script. And this movie kind of corrects all of that, so all power to it.


BETH ACCOMANDO And it allows people to enjoy sex, which is something that they don't often do in movies.


YAZDI PITHAVALA Imagine that yes.


BETH ACCOMANDO So this is a big, bold, audacious film that commands attention, but equally good, but at the opposite end of the stylistic spectrum is Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Monster. So like all his films, it has a quiet, delicate sense of craft. His films often seem deceptively simple. The emotional impact often creeps up on you in unexpected ways. Essentially, this film tackles the idea of monsters in the sense of how we throw that word around to describe people. Some people have described this as kind of a Rashomon like story because it's told in three parts, each kind of from a different point of view. But while Rashomon was kind of giving us three conflicting points of view, or we had to choose who was telling the truth, this is about how all this information needs to be taken together to form a true, bigger picture of what's going on. So I know you love Kore-Eda’s work, and this film is one of his best. What was about this one that you liked? And did you see it as kind of following in line with his other films, or did it diverge in any way?


YAZDI PITHAVALA I should say that I adore this filmmaker, and I pray at the church of Hirokazu Kore-Eda. All of his movies are just so humane and kind and simple, and you realize in retrospect how much thought has gone into it. I also love that all of his film scripts never have an easy villain that creates the conflict. There are no bad people in his movies. They are just people in bad situations who are reacting a particular way. And be it shoplifters or be it like father, like son, any one of his movies, that kind of threat continues on in this movie as well. So his deep regard for human beings, no matter how quick we may be to judge them, continues in this movie. But I've never seen him do this thing with perspective, where depending on a certain set of facts that you are first exposed to, you can't help but judge the characters a particular way. And then as more and more becomes known to you, your perspective changes. It kind of reminded me of the movie a separation, which won the best foreign film Oscar about ten years ago. So I really like what he's doing with asking the audience and kind of holding them complicit in terms of how they are judging the characters as the movie is going on.


BETH ACCOMANDO Well, I love how it plays. There's a mother and son that open the film with their perspective, and we are so quick to be on this mother's side because he's playing into certain tropes and then he twists them to show us how easily we can be fooled by something that we see or just a piece of information that we have. And I think he's one of the most infinitely compassionate and empathetic filmmakers. And he really has this sense of loving humanity for all their flaws and fallibility and vulnerability. And it's wonderful. And as in a lot of his films, children play a key role in this and this one. There are two wonderful characters and wonderful performances.


YAZDI PITHAVALA If you look at the filmography of Kore-Eda, you will see that almost all of his movies have pretty big parts for children. And you will never see the precocious, Disneyfied, all knowing, bratty child that we see in Hollywood movies. All of his child actors are remarkably natural. And for the life of me, I don't know how he's able to kind of extract those performances from them. Yeah, it's quite something.


BETH ACCOMANDO And at a time when society feels so divisive, I really feel like this film is asking us to be less judgmental, to just try to consider more points of view, more perspectives, and to consider why people may be acting the way they do. Our third film is also by a foreign director. This is J. A. Bayona. And I will confess he's done some dubious work in Hollywood, having done Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. But he returns to his homeland of Spain to deliver the society of the snow. And this deals with a real incident, the 1972 plane crash that was carrying the Uruguay rugby team. The plane crashed in a remote, snowy mountain area of the Andes, and it would take the rescuers 72 days to find the plane. So during this time, the 33 survivors had to deal with exposure, hypothermia, avalanches, starvation, until only 16 remained. Now, the part of the story that often gets sensationalized was that in order to survive more than two months, the people had to consume the bodies of those who had died. So this has been the basis for other movies. Most exploitatively, it was made in 1976 as survive. And just listen to this trailer survive.


CLIP The most shocking true story of human endurance ever filmed. Caution, the recreation of the plane crash and the survival scenes may be too intense for young teenagers.


BETH ACCOMANDO So Bayona takes this to a completely different place and different level, and he delivers an unexpectedly poetic and uplifting film. It's not what you would expect. And he does this by putting the story into a bigger context. He shows us the team before the crash and how the camaraderie on the field eventually translated to survival skills in the Andes. So what did you think of this film?


YAZDI PITHAVALA I really liked it. I liked it because it's not what I expected. This particular filmmaker, he'd made the Spanish language horror movie the orphanage a while ago, which is amazing. And then I think his first movie in Hollywood was the movie the Impossible, which was about this family trying to get together after the horrible tsunami in 2004. And I remember watching that movie at the Toronto Film Festival in this huge cavernous auditorium with 2000 people and watching all of us react to what was happening on screen as these people were trying to survive this horrific natural disaster. This filmmaker really has a way for depicting that. And here again, he's pushing himself to a story which even more reaches out to the boundaries of how much you can push human survival. And there is something very epic about this. The cannibalism part of this movie is actually perhaps the least interesting part of it. And he finds the time to comment on things such as consent and so forth associated with this. But I really like the movie because it doesn't fall back into that cliche of Lord of the Flies, where if you take a group of people and put them in a place where they're detached from society, that they're all going to turn on each other.


YAZDI PITHAVALA I think this story is amazing. This real story is amazing because people did not turn on each other. They kind of worked together and they recognized, even if some of them might be dying, that they should work together to keep those who are alive to be able to survive even longer. So I'm not going to lie, this is a wrenching, punishing watch of a movie because it's very, very hard to watch. But ultimately, ironically, it's actually very hopeful because it tells you of how you can make the ultimate sacrifice when everything else is gone. That the only thing you can do is hope that if you yourself do not come out of this alive, that others with you do. So it's odly apt for the holiday season.


BETH ACCOMANDO Talking about how difficult it is to watch, I will say that the plane crash itself is depicted in a way that I don't think I've ever seen in another film in terms of conveying that visceral sense of what it must have been like. And what I think is brilliant about how it's done is it really puts you in their place. And it's so jolting that from that moment on, you kind of understand how separated they are from the rest of the world. And he also does a great job of creating this ensemble of characters where you do feel this sense of teamwork and of love for each other. And when consent is given, like, look, I know I'm not going to make it, but if my death can allow you to move on and to live, don't hesitate. And that aspect of it was brought up at the Museum of us in their cannibal exhibit, where there's actually a section devoted to thinking about other kind of perspectives. Talking about perspectives, again, other perspectives on what that can mean. And you mentioned that this is a good Christmas film, and it is indeed, because ultimately they were rescued on December 23, 1972. And this has been referred to as the miracle of the Andes. So all three of these films will be in cinemas this holiday weekend. And if you're in need of a stocking stuffer for home viewing, we also have two quick recommendations for the Holdovers and Saltburn. Now, the holdovers, like the society of the snow, is a great sense of ensemble. It's from filmmaker Alexander Payne and one of his favorite actors, Paul Giamatti. Now, there's nothing new or flashy in this film, and yet it is such a delight to watch. So what was it about this film that you liked?


YAZDI PITHAVALA It's no secret, Beth. In the first ten minutes of the movie, you will know exactly how it's going to end, and yet you enjoy how the movie takes you unexpectedly through those expected pathways. I love that there is no sentimentality here. There is nobody screaming and shouting. For the most part, there's something so well oiled and well crafted about this whole movie that you come away with a smile on your face. We talked about lump of coal earlier, and this is the exact opposite of that. This is like a warm blanket around you as you're sitting in front of the fire over the holidays. This movie just made me feel so good and remarkable acting. And I should say one other thing which I particularly appreciate about the holdovers is that unlike most films, this movie really understands grief and it understands how that might play out. It does not sensationalize it in any way, but really plays it out in a very meaningful way, in a very heartfelt way.


BETH ACCOMANDO Well, one of the things that appealed to me about the film from the start was the trailer had a very 1970s vibe, from the quality of the image to the font they used. And the film itself, I feel like, has that 70 sensibility of really giving a great script to great actors and just letting it be about character. I mean, it reminds me of films like Harry and Tonto or Melvin and Howard, where you just get this focus on character and script writing and craft and just letting it flow out in this very kind of natural sense. Now, there's nothing showboaty or flashy about the holdovers. Saltburn, on the other hand, is almost gaudy. But there's a reason for it. This kind of looks at class structure, know wages a battle between rich and poor. It's Emerald Fennel's second film after promising young woman. Now, both of us felt a bit disappointed at how that film ended, but Saltburn really is a much better, sustained film with a much stronger ending.


YAZDI PITHAVALA Yeah, absolutely. I think Emerald Fennell really sticks the landing with this one when she did not, at least according to the both of us, with promising young women. We started off with talking about poor things and I said that was not a safe film. I think this one is not a safe film either, and I love it for it because it is made to deliberately make you squirm in your seat. And yet at the same time, it is very comical, it is exaggerated. And I did not know where this movie was taking me to, and it had a bit of a surprise up its sleeve. So as much of maximalist as this director is, I think for this particular script, that really is the right treatment for that material. Yeah, I loved how gleefully it wants to make everybody uncomfortable while watching it.


BETH ACCOMANDO Well, and I think we also take delight in certain rich versus poor narratives. And I think she has a great sense of revenge and of kind of poking the beast, in a way, and creating characters who want to challenge certain status quo and give us a certain level of satisfaction. I think that was the problem for me with promising young woman, is that we get a certain amount of satisfaction in the beginning with how smart the character is. And in this film, it's almost kind of the flip is that we don't think the character is as smart as he turns out to be. And there's a twist in this film that I think works much better. So these are the films that we would put on our shopping list for this holiday season. So I hope this helps you sort through with what's out there, helps you avoid the lumps of coal and pull out the treasured gifts and gems that you want to unwrap. So, Yazdi, thank you very much for helping us with the holiday viewing.


YAZDI PITHAVALA Absolutely. Always a pleasure. Happy holidays.


BETH ACCOMANDO That wraps up another edition of KPBS listener supported Cinema Junkie. If you enjoy the podcast, then please share it with a friend because your recommendation is the best way to build an addicted audience. You can also help by leaving a review.


Till our next film fix, I’m Beth Accomando your resident Cinema Junkie.


Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things" tops the list of films to see this holiday weekend.
Fox Searchlight
Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things" tops the list of films to see this holiday weekend.

Christmas is traditionally the biggest day at the box office for Hollywood. Plus, studios tend to hold all their big Oscar-hopeful films for the end of the year. So I invited Moviewallas' Yazdi Pithavala to head out to cinemas to shop for the best movies to unwrap this holiday weekend.

Our main purpose in doing this is that we wanted to make sure that you do not get a lump of coal under your tree or in your stocking this holiday season.

I would say that "Ferrari" is a lump of coal to avoid despite being helmed by the wonderful Michael Mann. "Rebel Moon — Part One: Child of Fire" is Zack Snyder's take on "Star Wars" but with all the joy sucked out. No amount of heat or pressure could turn this lump into a diamond. And I would also avoid "Wonka," even though it is a very bright, energetic, and chocolaty lump of coal.

Pithavala was kinder and pointed to Taika Watiti's "Next Goal Wins" as merely disappointing. But after we recorded the show he did find an absolute lump of coal: "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom."

Kore-Eda's "Monster" opens Friday at Digital Gym Cinema.
Well Go USA
Kore-Eda's "Monster" opens Friday at Digital Gym Cinema.

Our top picks for holiday gifts in cinemas:
"Poor Things" (Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas, Angelika Film Center, The Lot)
"Monster" (Digital Gym Cinema)
"Society of the Snow" (Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas)

Paul Giamatti stars in Alexander Payne's The Holdovers." (2023)
Focus Features
Paul Giamatti stars in Alexander Payne's The Holdovers." (2023)

Our top picks for streaming:
"The Holdovers" (Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube, Google Play)
"Saltburn" (Prime Video and also lingering in some cinemas)