Isolation Double Features

9 Movies to Remind You: It Could Be Worse

At the start of COVID, we thought it would be fun to keep track of how many days we’ve been locked down here in Los Angeles. Well, now that we’re on day 189, it’s not so fun anymore. In fact, it’s starting to feel a little like prison. 189 days is a long time to be physically cut off from the world. My mother just turned 80 and I couldn’t even hug her. So yes, I’ve needed the escape of movies as much as anyone, and films like Palm Springs and The Old Guard have helped a LOT. But even I have to admit that, sometimes, there’s something cathartic in watching a movie that taps into exactly what I’m feeling and brings my anxieties out into the open.

So, if watching all those movies with people doing old-fashioned things like hugging each other, eating in restaurants, walking in a crowd or taking a vacation has gotten you down, here are some suggestions for movie pairings that just might take the edge off your own stresses as you meet characters who have it so much worse than you. As Rita Coolidge sang, “we’re all alone,” and these movies revel in it.

LIFE OF PI (2012) & CAST AWAY (2000)

Two Oscar-winning directors are at the top of their game in these films that are as much about the awesome power of nature and an individual’s place in it than they are about survival. Life of Pi, for which Ang Lee won his second Oscar for directing (following his 2005 win for Brokeback Mountain), is a visual feast of a film, relying heavily on incredible CGI to help create this masterpiece of imagination and adventure. After Pi (Suraj Sharma) is caught in a storm while crossing the ocean with his family’s zoo, he ends up in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, with whom he embarks on a fantastical survival story. That’s pretty much the story of Life of Pi: how a boy and a tiger survive together on the open ocean. But the experience of Life of Pi is how this simple tale becomes a visual extravaganza, courtesy of Lee’s adventurous filmmaking, that fantastic CGI team, and Claudio Miranda’s gorgeous cinematography. It is a feast for the senses, a ballet of special effects against a canvas of sky and water, a dreamlike kaleidoscope of nature and fantasy. But nature isn’t always pretty and there is a lot of suffering in this film, as there would be. But trust Lee to never wallow in it, instead he revels in nature’s beauty and amazing capacity for transformation, inspiration and connection. This movie is so rich with interpretive possibilities—the definition of a parable, which it is—but the part that is undeniable is the outsized and emotionally riveting cinematic achievement that it is.

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Kajillionaire

Focus Features

A friend of mine loves movies about dysfunctional families. It seemed strange to me at first to have such a niche obsession, but the more I thought about it, it made sense. Messed up families are dramatic, entertaining, and even more relatable than romance. We don’t all have a passionate love affair, but most every one of us has some sort of family drama. From Ordinary People to The Royal Tenenbaums to Hereditary, a cinematic dysfunctional family has long been a staple in Hollywood, in every genre. But just when you think you may have seen them all, along comes Kajillionaire.

Written and directed by Miranda July, Kajillionaire is about a mother, father and their 26-year old daughter who are struggling to get by in Los Angeles. With barely a place to live and always desperate for cash, they spend all day every day coming up with schemes for making money, most of them elaborate and hard-to-trace, often not even illegal, but always at least unethical. The daughter, Old Dolio, played by Evan Rachel Wood, is the designated operative to carry out the schemes, but she doesn’t enjoy it.

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Enola Holmes

Netflix
If the success of the Harry Potter franchise taught us anything, it’s that there is an audience for well-made films aimed at young audiences. Historically speaking, films for young adults and families were mostly relegated to Sunday night TV, but Harry Potter’s success reminded Hollywood that there is an audience out there that falls somewhere between Pixar and Marvel. The tweens need love, too!

Netflix’s new family-friendly adventure, Enola Holmes, directed by Harry Bradbeer, launches itself headlong into the young adult fray, blending sophisticated style, classic literary references and a thoroughly modernist sensibility into an enjoyable confection for the whole family. Based on the series of books by Nancy Springer, Enola Holmes stars Millie Bobby Brown as Sherlock Holmes’s younger sister, Enola, a character invented by Springer. As the movie explains, Enola, 20 years younger than her brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin), grew up with her forward-thinking and independent mother (Helena Bonham Carter) in their large house in the English countryside. Enola is raised to be a smart, strong and independent woman, with a range of interests and skills. She and her mother are extremely close, but when Enola wakes up on the morning of her 16th birthday and finds her mother has disappeared, she is both heartbroken and confused. But by the time her two older brothers arrive to accept their responsibility for their younger sister, who is now in their care, Enola has figured out that her mother didn’t just leave without a trace. She instead left clues for Enola to decipher, clues to where her mother has gone and why.

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Kiss the Ground

Benenson Productions
There is no better time for Kiss the Ground, a new save-the-Earth documentary from directors Josh Tickell and Rebecca Tickell. It’s late 2020, and we are, as Americans, not only coming up on the most important election in our history, but we are facing unprecedented natural disasters, including forest fires, floods, hurricanes and a pandemic that has brought the world to its knees. If there were ever a time when Americans are primed to hear the message that is blasted out from this slickly-produced, star-studded and thoroughly entertaining documentary that is designed to both scare the hell out of us and give us some semblance of hope, it’s now.

There is no doubt, however, that given our current political climate and rhetoric coming from the halls of power in this country, many will tune out for the message they feel they’ve heard again and again. At this point, you have the people who believe the science and those who don’t. What makes Kiss the Ground so refreshing is it is not even trying to reach the people who have already decided to ignore reality. Instead, this film is aimed directly at the rest of us, those of us who believe the planet is dying, but we feel helpless to stop it. And, just like any great superhero movie, no matter how dire the circumstances, no matter how impossible the challenge may seem, no matter how long the odds, the heroes always find a way. And this is the neat trick the Tickells have done here. This is a carefully crafted documentary with a purpose, but it also has a narrative, a structure and a story. And the promise of a happy ending.

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I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Netflix

Charlie Kaufman is most definitely a filmmaker for happier times. Writer/director Kaufman’s films, like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, are explorations of the depths of human behavior, anxiety, depression and self-awareness, not exactly the kinds of films you look forward to when the world is burning. His latest film, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, is similarly dense and dark, with only a smattering of the offbeat comedy we have come to expect (and need) in his films. So why is it still the most memorable and worthy of watching, even now? Because sometimes, the best thing to offset the unreal is the surreal.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a brilliantly-posed title with two possible meanings, is a dark and methodically-paced story of a newly-dating couple, played by Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons, who take a winter-time drive to the countryside to visit his parents, played by Toni Collette and David Thewlis. During the drive, we hear the woman’s thoughts, as she contemplates breaking up with him. In between voiceovers, the couple engages in some of the most bizarrely boring yet curiously weird conversation, laying the atmospheric foundation of this film, which is, essentially, strange yet weirdly captivating.

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Always: A Renewed Appreciation

Revisiting my love for Always, Spielberg’s least-noticed, but most heartfelt

Universal Pictures
As we all breathlessly anticipate director Steven Spielberg’s take on West Side Story, which is currently still aiming for a December 18 release date, I found myself reminiscing about the one Spielberg movie that didn’t leave the world breathless, the one movie of his that hardly anyone noticed at all: Always (1989). Even the movies Spielberg made that are objectively bad, like Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull or Hook, at least made waves—and money. Always, however, suffered an almost worst fate than not living up to excessively hyped expectations…it simply came and went. And, I have to tell you, I’ve never understood why.

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Almost Famous: Still ‘Happening’ 20 Years Later

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 20 years since Almost Famous came out. A critical success but a commercial failure, it was nevertheless a touchstone for two generations. It has stood the test of time, still beloved by fans and constantly being discovered anew. Looking back at it from 2020, it’s easy to see why the film imprinted on all of us so easily and significantly. Beyond being an excellent example of filmmaking, it’s the spirit and the soul of writer/director Cameron Crowe’s personal love letter to rock ‘n roll that speaks to anyone who has ever picked up a guitar or played a record.

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Desert One

Greenwich Entertainment
The United States is a country with great pride. No matter what internal divisions we may have, we, as a people, have always proved our national sense of patriotism and there is the common acceptance that we are the greatest country in the world. We are a relatively young country with a history of successes, in industry, in science, in technology, and on the battlefield. One downside of allowing ourselves to get caught up in our successes, however, is our increased inability to face our failures. While our World War II heroes returned home to fanfare and adulation, our Vietnam vets returned to apathy and disdain. We are a great nation, built on a foundation of core values that establishes us as a beacon to the world of the democratic ideal. There is much to be proud of. But there is also a lot to take responsibility for. This powerful dichotomy is at the heart of 2-time Oscar-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple’s latest film Desert One, a complicated story of heroism and failure set against a backdrop of global politics. It truly is a staggering document of an event in American history that should never be forgotten or ignored.

We think we know all about the Iranian hostage crisis. In 1979, a group of student revolutionaries stormed the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran, and took 52 Americans hostage, in protest of the Americans’ harboring of the Shah, the deposed Iranian despot who was being treated for cancer in an American hospital after having fled the revolution. These Americans were held for 444 days and the story gripped the country—and the world. Nightline, the perennial nightly television news program, was born out of the nightly coverage of the crisis that newsman Ted Koppel provided. Argo, a film about a group of American Embassy workers who barely escaped capture during the siege, won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2012. The American people know about the hostage crisis. What they don’t know is the whole story.

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She Dies Tomorrow

Neon
It sometimes feels as if we are all swirling through a never-ending nightmare these days, as the COVID-19 pandemic has touched nearly every aspect of human existence. Writer/director Amy Seimetz’s chillingly timely new film, She Dies Tomorrow, unknowingly taps into that shared existential dread with precision. While not as can’t-look-away bizarre as last year’s indie horror hit Midsommar, She Dies Tomorrow is a movie baked in similar mind-bending madness.

Kate Lyn Sheil plays Amy, a young woman who has just bought her first house. There’s not much else we know about her, except that, when we meet her, she seems to be distracted or depressed, responding in the negative when her friend on the phone asks if she’s alright. When her friend, Jane, played by Jane Adams, arrives, Amy plainly and definitely tells her that she knows she’s going to die the next day. Jane blames Amy’s state of mind on the fact that she’s been drinking and refuses to indulge what she perceives to be another of Amy’s needy games. However, once Jane gets home, she herself becomes overwhelmed with the same certainty that she will also die the next day. As it turns out, this sense of impending death is contagious, as anyone who has it will infect everyone they come in contact with.

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Greyhound

Apple

Everything about the way we watch movies may be changing due to the pandemic and all the new streaming services have their work cut out for them to catch up with Netflix in capturing that lucrative home viewing audience, which is even more valuable now. Disney+ hit the jackpot with Hamilton, and now Apple TV+ is hoping Greyhound, its new World War II actioner starring Tom Hanks, will have the same response. Unfortunately, it might be too tall a task for this film, even with all it has going for it.

Just when it seems that every possible story of World War II has been told on screen, Greyhound arrives to dramatize a part of the war that’s not often told: the battle in the sea. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, they dragged the United States into the war, and the entire country shifted its focus to manufacturing critical supplies for the war effort. What’s often overlooked is the massive effort that was required to transport all those supplies, as well as troops, from America to Europe. The Atlantic Ocean served as perhaps the most forgotten front of the war, one where ships, planes and submarines played a high-stake game of hide-and-seek, chase and Battleship.

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