The Strop Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup: 5 Movies You’ll Want to Watch This Weekend

The Strop is a place to whet your appetite for damn good stories. Check back every Friday for our latest recommendations.

1. Fly Away Home (1996)

It’s based on a true story, but the premise for Fly Away Home always sort of sounds ridiculous when I try to explain it to people. A father and daughter raise a bunch of geese and then teach them to fly south for the winter. He’s a free-spirited inventor who doesn’t know how to be a dad, and she’s his estranged teenage daughter. Over the course of the movie, they argue, they tease, they laugh, they chase the geese, they yell at the construction crews destroying the forest behind their home, and they bond. It’s a wholesome family movie, but it’s not a happy movie. It’s melancholic. Because despite all of the flying machines, the geese, and the laughter, this movie isn’t afraid to be very quiet. At its heart, this is a story about a 13-year-old girl who, in the opening scene, gets into a car accident that kills her mother. This movie is about Amy coming to terms with her mother’s loss and learning to live without her. This loss is the undercurrent of the entire movie, the thing that keeps pushing the story forward because each character in the movie is reacting to the death of a woman and the survival of her child. And what always sticks with me is the silences. The movie begins and ends in silence. Instead of dialogue to introduce us to characters, shots focus on the raindrops on the car window, the glass on the car seats, the tire swing her mother used to push her in, Amy sitting alone on her estranged father’s farm, watching the eggs hatch, or the final look of determination when Amy has to fly the geese the rest of the way by herself, because she has, at that point, learned how to be survive by herself. It’s those stretches of silences, where nothing is happening but the characters are feeling everything, that I always think about. Because this movie knows that a lot can be said when nothing is spoken. – Becca Calloway

2. It Chapter Two (2019) 

Did this movie just come out? Yes. Am I obsessed with it? Also yes. This movie suffers in a few places, largely the same places that its book counterpart does: the adult sections of the movie can drag, there are elements of the plot that don’t age well (the drug-induced “spirit journey” and exoticizing of Indigenous culture in particular), and there are some circumstantial leaps of logic where suspension of disbelief will be the difference between a serious moment reading as goofy or not. What this movie does well, however, is tackling the emotional themes of the novel. All great horror movies are not really about their monsters or jump scares. Horror acts as a mirror, reflecting the viewer and the world to elucidate a deeper, horrific truth about society. For It — the book and the movie — that reflection is on varying forms of abuse. Where Chapter One was about the ways parents fail their children and the loss of innocence that can bring about, Chapter Two takes that base formula and follows it to its natural conclusion: the ways trauma can be perpetuated throughout a person’s life. Each of the main characters echoes their trauma in their adult lives: Beverly’s husband is physically and sexually abusive; Eddie marries a woman with the same narcissistic, thanatophobic control over him as his mother; Bill’s guilt over his little brother’s death fuels a dangerous, almost suicidal hero complex that drives him to try and sacrifice himself. Sitting just below the surface, setting the pulse of the movie, It stalks, cajoles, and torments the Losers with the parts of themselves they hate the most. Pennywise is definitely a scary clown, but at It’s core is the embodiment of the world’s cruelty. It feeds on outcasts, manipulating kids’ insecurities and wounds to find a meal, and as the adult Losers square up with their past, It takes the opportunity to wrap them in their deepest fears. In the end, there is, perhaps, too simple an answer to the looming specter of trauma — belief, love, and truth conquer the darkness. Such simple themes, when set against the deep, horrific cruelty explored on-screen, feel almost childish, but this film’s ending doggedly focuses on the necessity of human connection. The only way for these characters to survive the trauma of their pasts is to find comfort and strength in their found family. As the Losers swim together in the lake outside Derry, Eddie sits alone on a rock and begins to sob, overcome by the weight of what they’ve lost to their hometown. Slowly, one by one, each of the Losers come to comfort him, holding him, lending physical closeness and quiet where words would do nothing, and grieve together. It Chapter Two is a reminder that horror and trauma are not all-encompassing; heroes are flawed, love imperfect, but there is hope in the defective. – Daniel Mazzacane

3. Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival (2015) 

The Devil’s Carnival movies are gothic rock operas that pit the forces of Heaven and Hell against each other in fable-themed battle. Written by and starring Terrance Zdunich, and directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, Alleluia picks up where its predecessor The Devil’s Carnival (2012) left off: with the armies of Hell marching on Heaven. To say this movie musical is a campy romp is an understatement. Featuring the likes of Victorian industrial singer/songwriter Emilie Autumn, Tech N9ne, Paul Sorvino, Ted Neeley, Adam Pascal, and, yes, David Hasselhoff, Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival is the definition of a passion project. Told largely in flashback, Alleluia takes us to Heaven to explore the fall from Grace of Autumn’s character, the Painted Doll. While elements of the plot are moralistic in nature, the movie’s attempts at portraying sexuality, repression under fascistic governments, and the definition of freedom finds some success. Touting a romanticized 1950s aesthetic, a soundtrack that ranges from rap, to metal, to jazz, to swing influences, and some top Broadway talents, Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival is an indie film that might be hard to find, but is worth the effort for anyone who has a fondness for cult classics. – Daniel Mazzacane

4. Booksmart (2019)

Booksmart is the Gen-Z high school movie that you’ve been waiting to see. Think Broad City, but if Abbi and Ilana were in high school, smoking weed for the first time instead of the thousandth, stumbling through a last-chance effort to give themselves an actual “high school experience” after realizing that their peers — who they had previously considered burnouts — are bound for colleges just as prestigious as they are. The film does what the best coming-of-age comedies do: It engages with tropes enough to allow a humorous distance, but takes its characters seriously enough to dignify their dilemmas and problems. Ultimately, Booksmart is an ode to those formative, inseparable, we-spend-all-of-our-free-nights-staying-up-late-and-doing-nothing-in-our-high-school-bedroom relationships; it’s an occasionally slapstick teen comedy that exists entirely through a female gaze, joining recent TV predecessors like Pen15, Broad City, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in celebrating wholesome, badass female friendship—and, of course, badass women in general. – Josh Oliver

5. The Farewell (2019)

Lulu Wang’s film “The Farewell,” which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, is steeped in Chinese traditions, East versus West cultural conundrums, and half of the script is translated from Mandarin — but its charms are universal. Wang wrote and directed this film based on her own family story, as told to This American Life,  in which news of her grandmother’s fatal diagnosis was withheld from the one person for whom it most pertained: her grandmother. One of the film’s major themes is the importance of digging deep to find one’s inner strength. Awkwafina, who plays the lead of Billi, is constantly looking at a world looking back at her. Rather than stare back into the abyss, her response is to turn her head at the world that was, reflecting on her upbringing in China and her move to America. She must face the fact that her plans to fly require resilient wings she may not yet have developed. Who hasn’t experienced this wobble while navigating young adulthood? When Wang was initially trying to garner support for the film that became The Farewell, she sensed that companies wanted to shoehorn her idea into a Chinese version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But while The Farewell is no Greek-turned-Chinese wedding, the wisdom of the mother of the bride in My Big Fat Greek Wedding translates well here: “Women are the neck that turns the head.” Put more aptly, women are the jet engines that launch the plane. – Kendra Stanton Lee