Wednesday, February 2, 2022


I'm trying to get ready an Oscar ballot before the nominations are announce, but it's going to be touch-and-go this time around, admittedly. I'm getting through a lot more of the movies for this year then normal, and that's probably good, but yeah, in terms of prediction, if I get them out in time, I get them out, if not, then I'll post my Gold Derby ballot when I finish filling it out. Eh, I haven't even gotten to the shorts yet. I'm so far behind on everything lately, I'm amazed I have time to review the films I do get to watch.

I did watch some others, most notably, Terence Malick's "A Hidden Life" which, is one of his better recent ones, I'm sad I missed that one until now. Admittedly, all these films of his in recent years, can be a bit much. This bizarre burst of output that he's had since "The Tree of Life" is going fascinated historians more then I think it'll be appreciated by them, but "A Hidden Life" is probably the best of the bunch so far. 

I also got around to "Good Boys". I can't really find a good segue to go from Malick to, a movie about dumb pre-teen boys doing dumb pre-teen boy things. It's basically a movie where the gimmick is that, these are little boys who get into an absurd night of debauchery based around a "kissing party" (God, is that still a thing?) instead of say, I don't know Prom, or orgies, or whatever-the-hell these movies are usually based around. And also, there's a running joke about how they keep getting ahold of sex toys but don't know what they are. Honestly, I laughed more then I should've at this joke, so, (Sigh) yeah, it's worth watching one. I'll recommend it. It's right on that edge where Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's humor can either be hilarious or grating, and if I had a choice, I'd say go rewatch "Superbad" instead, but this works. We want edgier sex comedies sometimes and this succeeds, so I'm not complaining. 

Alright, let's get to the movie reviews, so I can go onto to the Oscars. 



I love Will Ferrell, truly I do, but I do wonder if sometimes, he picks a target that's a little too ripe for satire. I haven't kept up with every single one of his films over the years, I usually enjoy them when I do, and even if I don't I usually think he's the best part of them. Come to think, it's actually been quite a while since he made and starred in a regular Will Ferrell comedy, probably since "Get Hard" which I didn't get around to watching, but the first movie of his I remember skipping because the reviews were lukewarm and the premise just didn't seem compelling was "Blades of Glory". (Shrugs) I mean, I do like some of his sports and competition-inspired comedies, "Talladega Nights..." for instance, I think mostly holds up, but "Blades of Glory" was about figure skating, and figure skating, while, a sport I love believe it or not, is basically, just self-parody at that point, and for that matter, this point, to a degree. (I also just utterly despised "Napoleon Dynamite" and I guess didn't really want to see Jon Heder in a lead role again. That was probably an overreaction)

Anyway, that's kinda what I think about Eurovision as well, and I think Ferrell knows that. For those unfamiliar, Eurovision is this infamously campy song contest in Europe where every country submits a representative to participate and, half the countries don't want the burden of hosting the next year, so they purposefully send the worst submissions are and everybody has this really campy, gaudy performances...- There's actually a few people who became famous from this, Celine Dion, Julio Iglesias, most notably ABBA with their song "Waterloo", and their performance is shown in the beginning of the film, where we see a young Icelandic kid, Lars, (Ferrell) who's inspired by their performance to one day perform and win Eurovision. Unfortunately, he's Icelandic, a country that's never won Eurovision, because they never submitted Bjork, but also, he's not particularly great, and his hometown town of Husavik, doesn't particularly think highly of them or their performance. Oh yeah, their performance, he's apart of a duo with Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), his longtime best friend, and eh, possible half-sibling...- it's weird, 'cause they are attracted to each other,...- apparently something kept Lars's disappointing father (Pierce Brosnan) and Sigrit's mother, Helka (Elin Petersdottir) from being together as kids...- it's weird. 

They're the local group that perform cover songs at everybody's weddings and at the local pub. They're not great, and nobody wants to hear their original songs that they're writing for Eurovision, but they want to keep going, and eventually, through a bizarre series of circumstances, they end up at Eurovision where their friendship and music are put to the test, especially as both of them become attracted to other competitors, Sigrid to the Russian singer, Alexander (Dan Stevens) and Lars with the Greek contestant Mita (Melissanthi Mahut). 

This is a weird one, and I- don't really know how to judge this one, but my gut instinct is that, this is one of Ferrell's weaker efforts. Eurovision is one of those things that's really hard to make a satire of, partially because it is so self-satirizing, so Ferrell, kinda tried to split the difference and made something that's both a jab at it, but also make something genuine and show his appreciation for the contest. I guess there are films that can split that difference, Christopher Guest's movies were pretty good at it, especially "Best In Show", but here, what you end up with is a weird mix bag. It's an international cast, and while we have an American and a Canadian playing two Icelandics, we kinda skirt around the issues of making fun of other cultures, by essentially having most of Europe itself in on the joke. It kinda tames the comedy though, and that's when suddenly, when they do dip into bizarre stereotypes, like how Icelandics still believe in elves, it seems even more bizarre and off-putting. (Although they did mention briefly how Iceland did in fact, upend it's entire it's entire government after the Great Recession, so, what a weird little blip of accuracy to bring in.) 

The movie got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, which does work as a climax to the film, and yeah, thank goodness it is a decent song, 'cause if it wasn't, it really would've brought the film down a lot more. As it is, it feels like a disjointed mess of a film that know it wanted to do a comedy about Eurovision, but didn't exactly know where to take it. Like, there's a subplot where one of their rivals in Iceland is a ghost that haunts them, played by Demi Lovato of all people, and the movie even admits that she's kind of a useless ghost. Like, that's a funny scene in of itself, but you still kinda wonder why they needed it. I guess it kinda works like some of Will Ferrell's other tropes in similar movies that he's making light of with his deconstruction approach to comedy, but this time it just feels so disjointed.... Is "Eurovision" good? I don't know after watching this movie, and I feel like I should have an answer. I think it's mostly a love letter to "Eurovision" and- (Shrugs) I don't know; I've never had a particular thought one way or another about Eurovision, so... I don't know, it doesn't effect me. This what you get for trying to have something both ways, you don't get any personal emotion from the audience either way, and even in a comedy, you need to have a rooting interest in the main characters, and I just didn't. Honestly, I think I'd rather just watch a documentary on an actual "Eurovision" then this movie an occasional good laugh or two here and there. 

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021) Directors: Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada; Co-Director: John Ripa and Paul Briggs


Okay, I've kinda been avoiding this question, because, I thought I kinda got how cool and niche this was, but now I'm starting to think, maybe I'm missing something so, here it goes: Um, so, do people, kids, in particular, really like dragons? 

Like, also, like, do people see or think of dragons, as like, a cool, thing to have around? Am I-, I don't get it. I've tried to get it, and for the most part, the big animated media that's really taken to dragons, most notably, "Game of Thrones" and the "How to Train Your Dragon" franchises, I like and admire, but- it's starting to make me think that, people think of dragons as, like, not, giant flying lizard that can burn you alive with a deep breath, and now I'm just confused, 'cause basically every other dragon reference I can think, is generally negative. Like, I do get, how they can be cool, in the way that, skull tattoos can be cool, but, eh, yeah, I'm not really getting this at all. My earliest memories of dragons, whether based in reality, like say the Komodo Dragon or something, or in fiction, almost all negative. Like, I don't know if I've brought this up in, except maybe in some "Maleficent" reviews, but I fucking hate Disney's "Sleeping Beauty". I always has, even as a kid, and while now I have more analytical reasons for thinking of it as one of their weakest of their more beloved franchised, my main reason for hating it was because that scene of Maleficent turning into a dragon and especially that shot of her with the sword stuck in her chest, just scared the hell out of me as a kid. As cool as they are, like, on their own, dragons and humans combined, just, always seems like a bad combination that shouldn't work to me, even though, I've seen plenty of example where they have. To me, it's like, letting the boa constrictor in the baby's playpen, this doesn't end well. (Even, nice depictions of dragons I can remember; I never cared for them. Am I the only one who didn't like "Puff the Magic Dragon" as a kid? Not, the Dylan song, the cartoon.) 

I don't know, maybe I'm missing a cultural association with dragons that's positive; I'm sure there's some symbolism in Asians culture and mythologies, particularly in china for instance. [Or maybe that's why I never liked "Dungeons and Dragons", I would've so, just taken dungeon every time. I might be trapped in a dungeon, but at least I'm indoors and not having worry about goddamn dragons trying to kill me. {Or, do you just pick which one you want to be, a dungeon or a dragon? Dragon always go first, but dungeon's always on defense? I don't know how D&D works.}] "Raya and the Last Dragon" seems to look at dragons as these sort of, mythological god-like creatures that help make and keep the world as peaceful as possible, so naturally, humans destroyed them through their ignorance and arrogance. The humans are saved at the last second when Sisu (Awkwafina), the last of the dragons, takes their magic and combines them into a gem. However, the gem, is fought over by the humans, as they've separated themselves into five warring tribes and nations that once made up the world of Kumandra. The Heart Tribe, is the tribe that currently has the Dragon Gem and has retained it and kept it hidden from the outside world for centuries, as the other tribes, most notably, the Fang, have strived to get the stone themselves, believing that Heart's economic prominence is strictly because they own the gemstone. Heart's leader, Chief Benza (Daniel Dae KIM) has taught his daughter Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) to defend and look over the gemstone, however he still wishes to bring the tribes together as one again, and invites all the leaders to Heart, in an effort to try to legislate a peace.

This, was, just clearly a dumb idea. Like, seriously, all these people want the thing you've protected from them for 500 years, and now you're inviting them to where the gem is? Like, I get being hopeful for a peaceful future, but holy Hell, what a dumb idea. Thank God, the Jews and Palestinians aren't fighting over possession, of, I don't kn-, Abraham's magical beads or whatever; think peace talks are bad between them now.... Anyway, this goes about how you would expect, and Raya gets tricked by Namaari (Gemma Chan) the daughter of Queen Virana (Sandra Oh) of the Fang tribe, and after a fight, the Gemstone is broke and split amongst the five tribes, which summons something called the Druuns, a swirling, monstrous dark spirit, described as the "opposite of dragons" that turns whatever human that reaches into their grasp, into stone. 

This turns what remained of the five nations, into a post-apocalyptic landscape, and we return to Maya five years later, driving her trusty pet Tuk-Tuk (Alan Tudyk), an, armadillo/um- (google search) pill bug, like a giant-wheeled motorcycle over the often-deserted terrain that once was a nation of rivers. It's strange when a movie turns from "The King and I" to a "Mad Max" sequel, but they did do it well, and Raya eventually managed to find, and using the magic in the part of the gem she recovered, bring back to life the titular last dragon, Sisu, and together, they go on a dangerous path trying to recapture the missing gemstones. All the while, Namaari's also trying to stop/follow her, in order to, once again grab ahold of the pieces of the gem, ironically, in an effort to recapture the full gemstone, to make peace. 

Actually, that's kinda right; one of the things I've never really liked much about these maguffin fantasies, is how everybody believes that somehow, once they are able to capture the item, whatever it is, and/or control it's powers, that ultimately, they'll be the proprietors of goodwill and peace, while, Sisu, constantly keeps insisting that the best approach is to have everyone come together, even making sure to bring a gift every time they run into a new land in an effort to claim the gemstone. It's always weird how humanity seemed to often only be able to conceive of a better world, firstly through their own selfish powerhungry ways; it's the same kind of thinking that leads people to believe that they'll do all these wonderful, charitable things, after they win the lottery. 

I guess in that sense, I ultimately do like the ultimate message of the film, that these spiritual dragons, and eventually, much of humanity gets turned to stone because of humanity's selfishness. Also, it's just a really good well-told, fantasy-adventure story, and not entirely a traditional one. One of Disney's better ones actually, it's not exactly a genre I think they've done well in the past, but this one manages to get the stakes correct, and gives us a fairly complete world, that makes sense. I even like how it's both a fairy tale, and a post-apocalyptic tale, that's not something I've seen much of. I like how the one world is basically a town of thieves and conmen, including, Noi (Thalia Tran) a con-baby, who along with others, like a ten-year shrimper Boun (Izaac Wang) and a lonely warrior Tong (Benedict Wong) come aboard this plan. It reminds me of "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" of all things. 

I know it's gotten some criticisms for seeming too similar to "Avatar: The Last Airbender"; I know, most notably, Lindsey Ellis garnered controversy with that comparison on Twitter, mainly because she's a smart left-wing female influencer, and people seem to hate that because, well, just because,- so they baited and misrepresented her into seeming way more racist and ignorant then she actually is, (So, they basically Lena Dunham'd her) and the backlash of that recently led to her leaving Youtube entirely. I won't be discussing any similarities because, I have no knowledge of "Avatar: The Last Airbender", and couldn't begin comparing the two. I'm sure there's inspiration taken, and for what it's worth, this feels like it would be more entrancing and enriching as a series then as a movie. But for what it is that I can see, it's pretty damn good. It's not perfect and I can knock plenty of holes in it's contradictory story. Yet, it captured my attention, created a world that, I liked, even with the dragons, and I think kids would enjoy it and it's ultimate message is appealing. It's also, just a way better Asian female warrior tale that they've done than either version of "Mulan", so that's a big plus in it's favor as well. Also, I do like the animation, and it's use of multiple kinds of animation, and during one sequence, we actually get a brief glimpse of what this movie would look like in traditional Disney 2-D cell animation, which I thought actually looked cool as well. 

Still not entirely sure why we need our human world, even our fantasy ones, to be so heavily populated with dragons. Yeah, that one, no matter how well it's done, is always gonna lose me at least a little.

DRIVE MY CAR (2021) Director: Ryusuke HAMAGUCHI


There's a moment in "Drive My Car", where two characters are talking to each other, and one of them begins to tell a story. The other person thinks he knows the story, but soon it turns out he doesn't know it entirely. Without context, on the surface, this scene seems innocuous, but most scenes in movies where one person tells another a story, usually aren't. Often they're exposition, obviously, sometimes though, they can mean everything. The story this one character tells, simply put, is well, to put it bluntly, genius, within it's own right, and just a brutal conflict of heartfelt, inner emotions within the context of the movie. I was trying to think about similar scenes in movies as the scene was happening where a character tells another a story and how impactful that story was, especially as an emotional climax. Off the top of my head, the first one I thought of was "The Double Life of Veronique", where Veronique's puppeteer boyfriend tells a tale about the two little girls, that's a great one. Probably the most famous one is that final scene in Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors", which famously brings together both the film's dramatic and comedic stories together in one glub and genuinely disturbing twist about the foils of guilt. Another one is in the story told by the oracle character in Claude Berri's "Manon des Sources", which puts a more Greek tragic light on the events of, two whole movies. 

The thing is, none of those are perfect comparable examples; they're all stories, that essentially effected the entire films they're in. The key with this scene from "Drive My Car" isn't that the story effects the events of the film, although it is foreshadowed slightly in the events but, it's the fact that one character is hearing this story at all, from somebody he knew, somebody he loved, and somebody that he knows kept stuff from him. Maybe she was keeping this story from him? Or maybe, worst yet, she didn't get a chance to tell him the rest of the tale. 

Based on a short story from the Haruki Murakami short story, "Drive My Car" is one of those rare movies that works on so many levels that it's actually quite difficult to describe the entire story. On it's most basic level, it's a story about grief and grieving. Yosuke (Hidetoshi NISHIJIMA) and his wife Oto (Reika KIRISHIMA) lost their four-year-old from pneumonia years ago. Both of them were television actors at the time, but Yosuke has since retreated into the theater world working on some experimental multi-language productions of the western theater cannon. When we first see him perform, he's in a production of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot". Oto took it incredibly hard and gave up acting entirely, until suddenly, she started telling stories and turned those stories into plays and had since become an exceptional playwright. 

She suddenly dies from a brain hemorrhage, shaking her husband who abandons performing himself for awhile. He also can't drive anymore, as it turns out he's starting to suffer from glaucoma, and it's caused one minor accident, however this is important to him, as he often spends his driving time learning lines for the plays he's working on, and it was Oto that used to record the plays for him at the exact tone and cadence that he preferred. This leads to some difficulty as, two years later, he's taken a job putting on a production of Checkov's "Uncle Vanya", the play he was last working on when his wife suddenly died. He's renting out a space on a nearby island, but because of some past issues, renters, particularly artists in the area, aren't allowed to drive, so he's given a driver, Misaki (Toko MIURA), a stoic young woman who turns out to be, really good at driving. 

When Yusuke's wife would drive, he would get annoyed at how unsmooth it was sometimes, but Misaki is good at it. She's got a reason and a story for that. I think that's one of the tricks of the movie, is that, grief is universal, and everybody's overcome something. This is represented in his multi-lingual cast of "Uncle Vanya" that he's putting together. Everybody speaks a different language, one cast member even chose to use KSL throughout the performance. The actor he cast as Vanya, is a younger actor named Takatsuki, who was an old friend of his wife through their television work. Through the play and through the work, they begin to bond as well, even as Yusuke's troubled thoughts on his wife haunt him, and Takatsuki's erratic behavior begins making the set questionable. 

It's these two who have that conversation, and there's many layers to it and many other conversations between characters in this films, that trying to describe them all seems pointless; you just have to see it, and absorb it, and let yourself absorb it too. The movie is three hours long, and I can just hear a long list of complaints coming from those who just don't want to see anything that's remotely such a meditative character study. In hindsight, I think the comparison to Kieslowski earlier is quite apt. I remember Siskel & Ebert's old episode where they reviewed Kieslowski's masterpiece "Red" of the Three Colors Trilogy and Siskel said that the movie doesn't go the typical kind of Hollywood-style character development, but Ebert corrected him saying, that it was all character development, it's that Hollywood doesn't go for any character development, they just go for big action scenes and characters stay the same from the beginning to the end. There's little action, even the act of driving a car, an image that might conjur thoughts of a "Fast & Furious" movie, but to see the depths of what it means for someone to allow another to drive them, and drive them in their car, that trust is a sign of a constant ever-growing change between characters who are both suffering through their own personal traumas, but must continue to go on with life, 'cause that's just what one does.  

This is the first feature I've seen from director Ryusuke HAMAGUCHI; first making it big in America this year with this film as well as "Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy", although I've heard good things about him since "Asako I & II" and like Kieslowski, he also started in documentaries before switching mainly to feature, although I can't help but notice that his first film in college, was a remake of Andrei Tarkovsky's masterpiece "Solaris", a film that you can argue might be the epitome of what can be done with the medium of film using slow, methodic storytelling and focusing in on the great power of minute character development. (And for that matter, "Solaris" is also a story about dealing with grief) I think his addition is the idea of how universal these subjects are, and discussing and re-enacting such treasured pieces of very western literature, through a purposeful, multi-language prism, in the Far East, reflects that. They say that you don't always need subtitles to know essentially what's going on in many foreign films; no, I don't always agree with that, but you do get the general sense though, that's true. 
His instructions to his actors aren't to play the emotions, as you might think, but to actually tone down their "performance" and to simply give themselves to the text, making sure that that is the most important. I can imagine HAMAGUCHI giving similar instructions to his own actors in this film, and oddly, it makes you care and pay more closer attention to what is being said when you do this, and soon enough, those emotions that you're giving to the text, reveal themselves ten-fold in the truly great performances. And there's a lot of truly great ones in this film. 

"Drive My Car" is every critics favorite film this year, and I prey that the public at large will give it a real honest try to appreciate it 'cause there really is something special in a films like these that seek out and find greater truths then you'll find in any blockbuster superhero film that they chug out to theaters these days because that's what the public wants to see. Personally, I feel like I could watch "Drive My Car",  dozens of time over and always find out something new about myself, and those are the films that are the most worth watching and re-watching. "Drive My Car" is really that special.

THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021)  Director: David Lowery



I soon as I realize what Green Knight they were talking about here, the painful memories of reading from that giant 9th Grade English book 'came flooding back to me. Or was it 2nd year at the Community College? Nah, I feel like this was high school, but that may have been because I knew several king Arthur fans on that Varsity Quiz I was on, that one year I was at Valley, and that whole year was torture. 

So, I'm not particularly a King Arthur guy; I never got into most of the filmed versions of the myths outside of the one with the words "Monty Python" in the title, but I have perused and come across a few of the stories over the years, and "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is one that I did come across and it's probably the one King Arthur story that everyone that absolutely needs to read. Not that I'm saying that I liked it or anything, but it's a good general archetype for what, from what I gather, most of the King Arthur tales basically are like. There's a challenge, and a knight, or group of knight, go on some sort of adventure, where they're tricked or someone's trying to trick them, some kind of monster might be involved...- honestly, I think one of the reasons I love "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is that it's really is very good at satirizing just how ridiculous these stories are. I get that they're essentially British mythology, so I probably should treat with the same kind of reverence I have for say, Greek or Roman mythology, or even, the works of Homer or the Epic of Gilgamesh or even Biblical stories or something of the like, but I don't know, I've always found them too goofy and usually found that they lacked some the depth of metaphor or the gravitas of them actually being framed as narratives explaining the workings of the world. In that sense, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is one of the strongest of the King Arthur tales and why it's one of the most taught. (Well, I call them "tales" or "stories" but I think they're technically poems...- Ancient English Lit professors I'm sure will correct me in the comments on the semantics of it all. Oh, and King Arthur has a witch stepsister, Morgan, who's always like involved in creating whatever these dumb plans are that makes the knights go on these journeys...- I don't really get Morgan Le Fay either; I think I'm supposed to think of her as a seductive threat, but I always feel like she's more comparable to Endora from "Bewitched" then like, a real threat.) 

So, I was curious, but not necessarily looking forward to this latest interpretation, "The Green Knight" just based on my recollections of the story. and it also doesn't help that the film was directed by David Lowery, a very talented filmmaker who I've constantly found to be more and more frustrating with every film. Again, talented, and I'm not-at-all surprised that this guy would be intrigued by a King Arthur (Sean Harris) tale, all his movies, good and bad, seem to be about characters going on long journeys into the heart of both the natural world, and often times, the supernatural world. I've seen some of his work that even predates his breakthrough "Ain't Them Bodies Saints", and this guy loves to create mood pieces that admittedly I've rarely felt the mood for. His best film was his last one, "The Old Man & The Gun", a modern-day elegiac western about a long-time criminal who's a master at escaping from jail to rob more banks, contemplating retirement, heading towards the end of his long journey. Although, I think most people think of him with his film "A Ghost Story" a film where Casey Affleck is a white-sheeted ghost through the whole movie that everybody either loved or hated, and I'm in the hated camp on that one. I put it on my Worst List that year and got shit for it, but I stand by it. 

Looking back on my reviews of Lowery's films, I've compared him on multiple occasions to the works of Terrence Malick and David Gordon Green (Well, early Green) and yeah, "The Green Knight" has plenty of room for a filmmaker to dwell on the nature of the world. I just wish he had more to say about it most of the time. 

The most interesting part of the story is basically intact, as Sir Gawain (Dev Patel, who I think is working his way through being cast as every major leading English literary character) is celebrating Christmas at the Round Table, when, in this version, Gawain's mother (Sarita Choudhury), who is never named as Morgan Le Fay, but whatever, casts a spell that summons The Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) to the dinner, and challenges a knight to land a blow against him, and anyone who would, would get his axe, but would be condition to return in a year, to get a blow in return. 

Gawain accepted the challenge and chopped off the Green Knight's head, using Excalibur no less. The Green Knight then picked the head up and heads off, considering the challenge accepted, and naturally, once you see someone pick up their own decapitated head and go on about their day, yeah, you eventually decide to go and seek him out. 

The journey to the Green Knight's chapel, is the majority of the film, and most of it is uninteresting. Oh there's interesting stuff that happens, but none of it's really compelling. The short story is basically skimmed over mostly, except for the one interlude where he stays at the castle of The Lord (Joel Edgerton) and where he's seduced by his wife, The Lady (Alicia Vikander) which..., eh, it goes how it goes in the short story.

There's an additional sequence where there's a young boy who helps Gawain with directions on his quest played by Barry Keoghan, but he just leads a gang of thieves and they take his axe after they attack him. He also helps a young woman named Winifred (Erin Kellyman) recover her head which was stuck at the bottom of a spring. 


I swear to Christ, I can't think of this world where everybody's literally losing and recovering their heads and not think about how it's "Just a flesh wound." People are seemingly taking this film seriously; I've seen it pop up on several Critics awards this year and even some putting it in the Best Picture category. The special effects and the Cinematography are definitely standouts. Even the talking fox, which was probably the most obvious CGI creation was still a really well-done one. (And it was apparently voiced by somebody named Patrick Duffy...- but- that- he was uncredited, but still- that, that can't be that Patrick Duffy, right? Wikipedia, and IMDB are in disagreement on this one, but I'm gonna say, no that's not that Patrick Duffy. That'd be hilarious if it was, but no...- that can't possibly be right.) All this is, fine, I guess. Instead of a green sash, The Lady gives Gawain a green, sash, he rejects the advances except for a kiss... The movie is fairly faithful to the story, and I guess the randomness of the journey helps along the way, but I've never really understood the appeal of these chivalrous treks. I've describe King Arthur as English mythology, but they're really mostly a form of modern Christian mythology, 'cause as far as most scholars can tell, most of these tales, the original tales anyway, were first published at around the time when Christianity was usurping the more ancient mythology popularized in the West by the Greeks, Romans and Norse, so a story about a green, nature-based knight, challenging and in essence, testing out an English Christian knight, probably had a lot more meaning back then. You can see it as a parable of more Pagan traditions becoming more accepting of the modern traditions, which is my favorite interpretation of the text, but I don't know if that, or any other real interpretation comes across here. I suspect that Lowery mostly selects the films and stories he wants to use in an effort to showcase his visual techniques and not-so-much because they're actually good stories that deserve to be filmed, or he has a good or better interpretation of those stories. You can see that in the underwhelming "Pete's Dragon" remake he did, one of the more forgotten film in this Post-Disney era of reboots and nostalgia. Like, "Pete's Dragon" wasn't even a particularly good or memorable Disney film to begin with, and "The Green Knight" is interesting in it's literary value, but in terms of it actually being a compelling narrative; there's a reason this is only the third adaptation of the story to make it to theatrical release status as a film, and the first two were directed by the same guy, and neither were beloved and both deviated heavily from the original story.
There's fewer deviations here, but I'd argue it's detriment is how faithful it is. The one advantage this story has, is that it can be a road movie, like "The Odyssey" or "The Epic of Gilgamesh" and you can play with those narratives in film, and create, basically anything you wanted in the middle, but the key factor is that, you have to really have a rooting interest in the characters going on their respective journeys. Sir Gawain, is not nearly as interesting as a Homer or Gilgamesh, and frankly most characters who go on chivalry-based treks aren't as compelling as say, somebody trying to make it home after surviving a treacherous war or a mad king seeking eternal life after the god's killed his best frenemy/gay lover. I'm not gonna say it wouldn't be a challenge to make Gawain more compelling, and still keep the basics of the story in place, but "The Green Knight" just ultimately reminded me why I liked analyzing and studying the story, but didn't particularly care for the story itself. It looks amazing, but I don't like David Fincher films when I think the story lacks the depth that his skillset has and I find myself not interested in Lowery when he doesn't have an interesting enough story either. 

Also, post-credits scene that didn't need to be there, but wasn't terrible, but, yeah, 1/2 a star taken away for that too. 

THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES (2021) Director: Michael Miranda;  Co-Director: Jeff Rowe 


After so much disappointment and boredom from most of the recent batch of animated films, it's such a fresh air to find one that's genuinely fun. I don't know why, but there's been a sad trend of formulaic animated fantasy films lately, almost all of whom feel like they've been designed by some computer to create some cliche fantasy narratives about having to hide and then accept who they are. Much of it was bad, worst then that, much of it was bland and boring. That's not to say that "The Mitchells vs. The Machines" is completely unique and original, but it's approach feels fresh. Taking full advantage of the medium, and not just using it because it's the best medium to tell their story, this movie has energy, personality, a vision that's actually worth existing. 

I'm sorry if I'm making other animated films recently seem like they've been utterly dour and hopeless, but they've definitely felt a little too out of reach for me. How am I supposed to really care about a sea monster wanting to win a triathlon? I mean, some of these movies, I swear I feel like they were made using Mad Libs lately.  "The Mitchells vs The Machines" actually feels like it's going it's got life and vision. 

And that vision belongs to Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) an awkward weird little teenage girl who struggles to connect with either her eccentric family and finds solace in making Youtube short videos, mostly involving her dog Monchi (Doug the Pug) starring in a lot of cop dramas that are genuinely funny and entertaining. I've usually been somebody's who been a bit of an annoyed, jealous critic of films where teenagers seem to be able to make better-produced films long before I knew how to even turn a camera on without breaking it, but I felt like letting it pass here, 'cause it's integral to the plot and the time period. This movie, takes place in modern day and the family dynamic mirrors the main narrative about how a more modern, technological world is leaving some people behind. The more, naturalistic perspective comes from her father Rick (Danny McBride), the typical handyman father who's always prepared with a screwdriver to fix anything, but can't really understand how a computer works. Katie's struggles to connect with her father inevitiably led to wish to go to film school across country in California. After a blowup at family dinner, Rick decides the best way to reconnect is a family vacation to drop her off at school, taking her along with his wife Linda (Maya Rudolph) and their dinosaur-loving son Aaron (Michael Rianda, the film's co-director). 

During the road trip, while they still struggle to see each other's side, the robot apocalypse happens. No, I'm serious. Also, kudos for a title that actually knows the correct best way to write "Vs." You have no idea how much that's pissed me off in recent years. Anyway, the largest tech company in the world, run by Mark (Eric Andre) a cool, young, but emotionally confused version of a Steve Jobs-type, accidentally creates robot slaves that instantly break all of Issac Asimov's rules, and now, under the control of Mark's beloved original creation, PAL (Olivia Colman) who controls everything and everyone through her cell phone, she manages to capture all the world's humans with the plan to blow them up into space. All, except the Mitchells, who are barely able to get on the same page. 
So, yeah, now the whole family, they have to combine their skills and powers to save the world now. Or, just hideout and hope the robots don't find them. They are pretty outnumbered and they only begin to get a plan when a couple dysfunctional robots, Eric and Deborahbot5000 (Beck Bennett and Fred Armisen), who reveal the way to get the Kill Program downloaded into the system. 

I don't want to describe the ways in which this movie tells it's story, 'cause it's so much more carefree and delightful then other films, that I hope to just surprise people. It kinda reminds me of Marielle Heller's masterpiece, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl", which took some wonderous first person personal visions, and through their artwork, helped take a very dark story and give it such life and hopefulness. Here, it's nowhere near that dark, which is a weird to say when humanity is at stake from a sociopathic cellphone, but still, I enjoyed how delightful the twists and turns were, even if I take a minute and think about it, the movie's narrative is so over-the-top and absurd, even if much of it is a great commentary on the good and bad sides of modern and past technology, and well as just, how the struggle of communications between people, can lead to complete misunderstandings that perhaps in lesser hands, people will never forgive each other over, but here, we see them overcome for a bigger cause. 

There's a lot of hopefulness in "The Mitchells vs. The Machines". You could argue that it basically devolves into a lesser-tier ripoff of "The Incredibles" but I thought it was too delightful and fun to ignore. It's so nice to see an animated children's that's not only good, but genuinely fun to watch. Really wish other films would take advantage of the medium of animated like this, you can do so much with the genre, and so many have just boring lately, telling straightforward boring stories, and here's a tale that's as random and silly and fun as a cat filter on your cell phone, and still have such emotional depth and meaning. 

FLEE (2021) Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen


In hindsight, I don't know why more biodocumentaries, aren't animated. Some people might be amazed to find out that animated films can be documentaries, but actually there's quite a long history of animated documentaries. One of Chuck Jones's Oscars is for an animated Documentary Short he made in 1949 called "So Much for So Little" about the benefits of having a governmental funded health system in America. (No seriously, that's what it was about; we've been having this discussion this long.) Or in more recent times, the documentary we have the documentary "Tower", about the 1966 University of Texas massacre, when a gunman opened fire on the university from high atop the campus's famed clock tower. That movie made my Ten Best List for 2016, and it's still powerful to see how they recreated events using animation; it's one of the best mixed media films I've seen. 

"Flee" is similar, it has probably more animation, as well as several kinds of animation, combined with archival footage that tell the story of Amin Nawabi, an Afghani refugee who spent most of his life, and most of his young life running from country-to-country searching for the rest of his family as he is constantly smuggled from one European country to another. Amir plays himself, and his modern life is shown, as he's currently an academic in Copenhagen and in a pseudo-interview/psychiatric session, he talks with the film's director Jonah Poher Rasmussen about his life. When we do cut back to him, during his regular day, he's preparing for his life with his soon-to-be new husband. They're checking new houses, moving in, and going about the regular workings of normal life, which is far from his experiences of his past as a refugee who escape the Afghan Civil War. 
In recreated events through animation, from his youthful boyhood crush on Jean-Claude Van Damme to his smuggling from Russia to eventually Denmark, and all the little details that he remembers, crawling through holes in fences in the middle of the night, the corrupt Russian police, the other young men and women who's names he doesn't remember or perhaps never knew who are in similar, or perhaps worst positions then he was. Traveling by boat for hours with dozens of other refugees. All the while, his family sent to several different countries, and he having to pretend he doesn't have family 'cause it's the best situation for him.... 

The animations helps with capturing the emotions of the younger Amir as he tells the story in modern times so solemnly, as it's the secret story he's kept for years, he's probably already mastered his telling it to himself at this point. 
I mentioned documentaries that also used animation to get to the heart of this story, but there's another movie that "Flee" reminds me of more, one that, for one reason or another, is not technically a documentary, but in hindsight is very similar, Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical "Persepolis". It was actually by Vincent Paronnaud, but it's based on her graphic novel and her story about growing up in Iran and leaving and going back to her homeland over the years, and being a very modern young woman in a very old society that also went through several wars during her lifetime. I oughta find time to rewatch that to put it in the Canon of Film, 'cause that movie is a masterpiece, and no, it's not technically a documentary, I seriously doubt her life stopped for a back-to-school montage set to "Eye of the Tiger", but in basically all other aspects, the movie is a story of her life in the same way that "Flee" is story of Amir's life, told by Amir as a now-successful adult. The movie even has some surrealist moments, like a Jean-Claude Van Damme poster winkly slyly at him, a real Felliniesque touch of sweetness in an otherwise sour upbringing. That, and the lovely revelation at the end when he does finally recover most of the family and they accept his homosexuality despite it being against their religion. I guess after living as a refugee across Eurasia means that you don't care nearly as much about trivial matters like sexuality anymore. "Flee" is a powerful story that needs to be told, one of many that are still being told, hell, still being written as the refugee crises seems to grow larger and larger and closer and closer to our shores. 

ZOLA (2021) Director: Janicza Bravo


The power dynamics involved in, literally any relationship one can think of involving a sex worker, are utterly fascinating to analyze. I don't think that's a remotely controversial statement, and it might not the main reason creators, writers and filmmakers especially have focused on, basically all numerous sex work professions in their work over the years, but for the most part, intentionally or not, all the best films about the subject, usually are about the power dynamics in their relationships. And there aren't too many relationships that haven't been analyzed in films like these, and in that sense, "Zola" doesn't exactly tread new ground, but boy does it have an interesting take on it. 

Based on a Twitter thread that went viral...- "Zola" (Taylour Paige) details the crazy, ridiculous two month long trip she took on a whim with Stefani (Riley Keough), and her boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Bruan) and his roommate, who, for most of the film, the movie refers to as "X" (Colman Domingo). Zola was working at a Detroit Hooters when Stefani and X walked in. Stefani immediately recognized Taylour as a fellow stripper and they hit it off right away, and literally the next day, they're off to Florida. 

What follows is, an absurd, surreal story involving, her words, "Full of suspense" as well as, sex, violence, money, killers, pimps, clubbing and some nice hotel rooms and mansions. Honestly, except for the fact that they're strippers going to dance instead of college girls going to party, the movie, pretty much is basically, a remake of Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers". Well,- okay, that's not exactly fair, although I should note that, when A'Ziah King sold the rights to her twitter thread to be turned into a movie, she originally sold them to, um, James Franco. He took his name off the Producer credit in light of all his scandals, but yeah, I don't think I'm entirely off here on the "Spring Breakers" comparison, and yeah, just like that fictional story, this actual story gets pretty fucking weird and disturbing. Although "Spring Breakers" doesn't have any shot nearly as amazing and brilliant as the overhead bathroom scene. 

At a break during the trip, we see the two girls using the bathroom at some gas station in adjacent stalls. This is shot on a set using a panning overhead shot and we see just how different two women are in how different they are in going to the bathroom, with Zola, hovering over the seat, trying not to get any part of her body touching the disgusting toilet, even asking for Stefani to give her extra toilet paper from under the stall. Meanwhile, Stefani, just sits right down, does her business, doesn't clean herself up, and doesn't flush before getting out. This scene sets up the entire movie, while they both might be strippers and might work in the same circles and be more similar economically and culturally then they might admit, Zola, is still prideful and won't degrade herself down, and will always have her dignity, while Stefani, is a literal mess who doesn't care if she herself is clean, or her surroundings. 

Stefani, also talks in that particularly icky kind of obnoxious white girl who somehow speaks entirely using a cliched African-American speech pattern and elocution. Yeah, you all know this girl, I know this girl, the one for whom has just culturally appropriated way too much but says it all in that exact kind of graining sexy baby voice lisp that you know that there's no possible way that you're gonna be able to teach her otherwise how offensive she's being, so even Zola won't even try. Not that Zola is a secret sophisticated stripper or anything, although I do like how she, like me, is completely unimpressed with whatever the latest stupid TikTok video or trend that's shoved in front of her face. Yeah, I definitely related to Zola with that. 

Anyway, things seem innocuous at first, until it becomes clear that X, who is actually Stefani's pimp, has conned Zola into hooking with them. Zola, resists, even despite being threatened by X. X, is a vicious Nigerian-born gangster who seems to both, have a tight grasp over his work and finances, and also is pretty bad at being a pimp, especially after Zola, basically manages to get, 10x his expected earnings in the first night, without herself prostituting herself. 

This is a strange one to think about and analyze if I'm being honest. I'm definitely recommending it, but I don't quite know what to make of it. I adored the filmmaking from director Janicza Bravo, she's mostly a television director who's starting to make her way into features; this is her second one after her debut, "Lemon", which I haven't gotten to yet, but this movie clearly has a signature style all over it. Full of fourth-wall breaks, multiple perspectives, some truly intriguing shots and ideas, and she has some good storytelling instincts. I've seen Colman Domingo's performance getting a lot of awards attention and credit; I'm trying to wrap my head around it personally, 'cause I get it, this character is a really annoying character to have to watch, and I guess in that sense Domingo's performance is great, on the other hand though, this guy was just a really annoying character. Like I wasn't intrigued or fascinated by him as a villain character, I was just waiting for somebody to pull a gun out of their purse and shoot him, 'cause I just didn't want to see him anymore. Apparently, shortly after the original tweet story went viral, he and Stefani were arrested in Las Vegas for trying to pull off the same kidnapping-into-prostitution scam and he's currently in jail for several crimes, and even if he gets out on this one, he's connected to multiple other crimes and murders, so I guess it's a strong performance. There's good acting all around; I guess it's just the tone of the movie and the sheer amount of questionable choices, even the smart characters like Zola makes that has me a little icky at the film as a whole. 

You know, I did actually know a few girls growing up, who used to say that they wanted to grow up to become strippers. I don't think any of them, actually did, we mostly kinda disregarded those childish thoughts for what they were, very childish, unknowing reactions to, what at the time was like the very beginning of this disturbing glamorization in the media of the profession. It was the Girls Gone Wild, Trash TV, Jerry Springer Show era, and- I don't know, maybe it's living in Vegas too long, but I don't really think I get it, ultimately. Like, everything about the sex worker profession, would seem great if, like any of it was genuinely real, and yeah, certainly none of it, and frankly most aspects of it that, if they were genuinely would frankly just be way too annoying and disturbing in real life to put up with, like somebody that white acting and speaking so much like they're not. I guess kinda why I'm slightly on the fence on this one, it hits a few too many grating notes that are just right at the edge of too realistic. Like, even the comedic notes are sometimes too painful to laugh, but I like that, it does make the journey, as absurd as it is seems, pretty believable. (Maybe that's just, Florida too though, you can pretty much buy anything happening there.) "Zola" is a good quirky little indy, that I'm bemused that it just exists at all, but I'm glad it does.  

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