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8 stars

Encanto

Encanto

Happy families are all alike; every magical family is
unhappy in its own magical way

dirs: Jared Bush, Byron Howard and Charise Castro Smith

2021

You may ask yourself: why would a man your age voluntarily subject yourself to a new Disney animated movie, when you no longer have a child of an age where the watching of such films is not only necessary, but mandatory?

Honestly, while I wave my hands at all *this* that’s happening now, the very thisness of it all, the crushing familiarity of where the world is at the moment, I just wanted to feel some delight, some joy, and while such a thing is not always guaranteed by Disney, it has a pretty good track record delivering with its mainline animated efforts.

I watched it, on a night I usually reserve for horror flicks or brutal action monstrosities, because I think my soul needed it, and I was rewarded. Encanto is up there with the “good” recent animated films Disney proper has put out, since it started having to compete with Pixar (before buying Pixar, of course). I don’t yet know if this has the longevity of something like Tangled, Moana or Frozen (I mean, Frozen was a global phenomenon, but no-one talks about Frozen II), but it’s definitely up there.

It does have some catchy tunes, but however great “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is, it’s not going to invade the ears and minds of every reluctant parent the way that “Let It Go” is probably sung even on the outer planets of our solar system.

I also like the fact, love the fact that if you could somehow resurrect Walt Disney himself, and play him the entirety of the movie, he would probably die from shock that an animated movie from the studio he created would have so many people with different skin shades in it, and that they weren’t playing happy slaves on a plantation.

It would kill him all over again, and that’s probably a good thing. We don’t need old racist zombies returning from the grave, craving our brains, money or votes.

Rating:

Nitram

Nitram

The cracks, they are getting bigger

dir: Justin Kurzel

2021

A film that no-one wanted to see made, other than obviously the people that made it. Yet it won a lot of awards recently, so someone other than the people of Tasmania thought it had to be worth something.

“Too soon” isn’t even the cry, because no amount of time will be enough for the survivors, for those who lost loved ones back in 1996, or the rest of us who were just left stunned. And though I clearly remember that time and what happened, and how we sounded when we talked to each other about it, and though I have seen and done much in life that would stain the souls of most mortal men, even I came into this film wary, worried, anxious.

To say that someone is this nation’s worst killer, who harmed the most people in the shortest expanse of time, is obviously not a worthy title, but it’s one I deeply hope is never taken from this particular, awful man. I never want anything even close to this to ever happen again, here or anywhere else. There are other countries, let’s be fairly obvious, where gun carnage and mass killings are taken to be an unfortunate but necessary reality that should never be used to diminish a citizen’s right to own as many guns as they want, for whatever reason. But that’s not Here. That’s not Australia. We tell ourselves, well, it only happened because of an oversight – our overly permissive laws regarding guns before were only because we never imagined someone could legally possess weaponry like this and use it in such a fashion. I mean, This is Australia!

And yet, you ask yourself, what else would they be for? A weapon that can shoot thousands of bullets in the space of minutes only really has one purpose, and don’t they just sit there full of their dark potential until someone uses them the way God intended?

I had hoped there would not actually be any depiction of the fateful day itself, but Nitram goes into aspects of the day, like, how the massacre started, and it was all too much. But that was the end of the film, and up till then, I’d been sitting there as a tortured ball of stress, willing somehow at the screen with every fibre of my being that the outcome we were obviously leading up to could somehow be different, could somehow be anything else.

But it couldn’t. This is part of our appalling history, and just like how the colonial horrors of Port Arthur from more than a century previous, or any of the brutality across Tasmania can’t be undone by wishing it, nor could this horrible day be undone either.

Nitram opens with a shocking snippet of news footage of the person this film is about, as a child, in hospital after an accident. It’s shocking because it’s shocking to see him as a child, that he existed in documented form well before he became known by all.

He speaks flatly about having hurt himself with fireworks, and when asked by the interviewer as to whether he’s going to avoid fireworks in the future or be more careful in general, if anything he wants to play with fireworks even more now.

It never lets us forget what he’s going to do, but it does remind us that he was a child once. A child that grew up into a man who was pretty much still a child.

Rating:

The Lost Daughter

The Lost Daughter

Everyone has fun on a Shirley Valentine-like holiday

dir: Maggie Gyllenhaal

2021

Is there anything the Gyllenhaals can’t do? When they’re not wowing audiences with their intense acting, or stealing red scarves from Taylor Swift and keeping them long after the relationship has ended, now they’re also directing intense dramas and probably getting ridiculous amounts of awards and stuff.

Maggie Gyllenhaal elects to write and direct here, adapting a novel by Elena Ferrante, being The Lost Daughter and not, as I initially thought, an adaptation of the fourth Neapolitan novel The Story of the Lost Child. She does not elect to star in it, instead letting Olivia Colman take centre stage, to the film’s benefit. Gyllenhaal is a fine actor, but Colman has this way of getting mean peevishness across with very little effort. She did it so effortlessly and coldly on The Crown as Queen Betty for two years, so why wouldn’t she bring those Ever So British skills to bear here?

Very much like the Neapolitan novels, it’s about a woman who’s an intellectual and an academic, who had kids, and felt pretty unimpressed with the experience. Present are the elements to do with maternal ambivalence towards one’s own children and not wanting to be classified as a mother to the exclusion of one’s other professional, personal or artistic pursuits. Absent are the elements to do with growing up in poverty in a mafia run town, or the intense rivalry between two childhood friends.

It’s something most mums are reluctant to admit, I’m guessing, unless they feel like they’re in a safe space or have had a few too many chardonnays. The mother who isn’t completely enraptured by kids, or who doesn’t feel comfortable maintaining the illusion that having kids changes everything positively about what you want out of life is still a touchy subject that usually results in the woman daring to say it in essays or fiction as heartless, selfish monsters.

Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman) never lies to people about how she feels about motherhood. “Children are…a crushing responsibility” she says to a pregnant woman at one point. Very patiently, over the course of the film, Leda’s relationship with motherhood, and what she did to her children, is teased out, but mostly it’s used as a backdrop to partially explain why she’s standoffish and prefers to be isolated even as she holidays alone on the Greek island of Spetses.

The thing about holidays is, no matter where you go, other arseholes always turn up. And a huge bunch of loud Americans appear, among them a young woman (Dakota Johnson) with a toddler daughter. The way the mother seems to swing between wanting to be a good mother to her angelic, annoying child, and seeming to want some freedom from her as well, reminds Leda of what were clearly her struggles when her own daughters were younger.

We get to see Leda as a younger woman with a pair of kids being so deliberately annoying you know this is somewhat a heightened depiction of how oppressive kids can feel sometimes, especially when you know it’s down to you. Other people will say they’re happy to help, but there’s judgement there too.

It’s down to you, all of the time.

Rating:

Don't Look Up

Don't Look Up

It doesn't matter whether you look up or not if you tell yourself
it's either not happening or how can I make money from this?

dir: Adam McKay

2021

Don’t Look Up. It’s not satire; it’s a documentary.

It’s not a documentary of what’s happened in the past or what brought us as a species to this point: It’s a document of why humanity’s narcissism, greed, laziness, stupidity, and willingness to swallow lies, no matter how transparently false, will not only doom our own species, but many others.

People, told the truth about what changes climate change will bring upon the planet, either collectively shrug their shoulders and keep doing what they’re doing, or actively try to find ways to make things worse. Of course, this being an American film, it’s about the general stupidity and venality of American society, that would rather jerk off to the latest celebrity gossip than spend a second thinking about reality, but let’s not pretend any other countries, including our own with its coal-hugging prime ministers, are any less fucking dumb, venal and corrupt.

Worst of all, which could be one of the reasons why the reviews have been so savage, is the media landscape that aids and abets this mentality of outrage algorithms and clickbait making stories about Real Housewives shenanigans and pop singer breakups resonating far more deeply with people than anything to do with global catastrophic climate change. In the form of two tv hosts played by Tyler Perry and an almost terrifyingly unrecognisable Cate Blanchett, the media is depicted as so uninterested in any truth, and so focused on maintaining a pleasant and comfortable illusion that ALL IS WELL, JUST KEEP CONSUMING is the only message they have to give us, all of the time.

Yes, the film is about a comet hurtling towards the earth, initially with 6 months notice before it arrives, as a metaphor for climate change. But it’s really about this fucked up society that will either ignore the problem until it’s too late, try to profit from it, or deliberately sabotage mitigations because, hey, humans have a death wish. The people who discover the comet, two astronomers, (Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio) tell this fact to anyone who’ll listen. They can confirm that it’s happening, that it’s coming. No-one really believes them, but a few people are uneasy about it. Bit concerned.

They tell their sorry tale to advisers to the president (Meryl Streep, playing the worst fusion of Hillary Clinton and the former orange fucker that you’re ever likely to see), and then to the president herself, who doesn’t believe them, who disputes the very idea of statistics, statistical results or empirical evidence, and shushes them, being more concerned with upcoming elections and her ex-pornstar boyfriend that she wants to install on the Supreme Court, and they make the concerted decision to pretend it’s not happening at all.

Rating:

The Man Who Sold His Skin

The Man Who Sold His Skin

Every time I think of the title, I think of it sung by Kurt Cobain
to the tune of "The Man Who Sold the World". Try It!

(Ar-Rajul Allaḏī Bāʿa Zahrihu)

dir: Kaouther Ben Hania

2020

Where this starts… and where this goes…

This is a pretty sly and smart flick, undone only by what I feel is like something of a cop out ending.

I didn’t know these things before watching the movie, but I know them now – this is kind of based on something that happened, which itself was ‘inspired’ by a Roald Dahl short story called Skin.

Skin I remember, because I read Skin when I was a kid in Tales of the Unexpected, and it stuck in my head ever since, because of the economical brutality of it: a chap has an exquisite tattoo on his back, needs money, someone promises to take care of him like he’s a pampered poodle, but next thing you know the skin is on a gallery wall somehow.

This film begins with two curators being ordered around by a guy with way too much mascara on, getting the position of the frame right, only for the camera to close in on the painting itself, showing that it is human skin.

So, the film starts at the macabre ending, and we’re to wonder how this ever happened.

The purpose of Dahl’s story was to shock, to disturb, to give someone a wry chuckle. The purpose of this flick is very much something different, seeing as it’s by a Tunisian director, with Syrian leads, set during the Syrian Civil War and the rise of the Islamic State, and most of it transpires in Belgium.

Belgium? How many good flicks other than In Bruges are set in fucking Belgium?

Well, there’s this one.

Sami Ali (Yahya Mahayni) loves a woman, called Abeer (Dea Liane), but her family have promised her to some Syrian jerk who works as a diplomat in Belgium. Bashar Assad’s forces are randomly killing bunches of Syrians, you know, just to keep them in line, so her family think it’s safest for her if they marry her off and send her to Europe.

Rating:

The Matrix Resurrections

Resurrections

Only ageless people would think they're not too old for this shit

dir: Lana Wachowski

2021

Well. I have seen The Matrix Resurrections. I imagine I will be one of the lucky few.

I have the feeling not a lot of people are either going to watch this or like it, and the ones that do like it won’t be believed, and the ones that hate it will really, really hate it.

What I’m going to do now is not something I usually do in reviews, seeing as it’s going to be pretty annoying and not very illuminating without context. But I’m going to type out a sequence of dialogue verbatim as it was in the movie.

All the context I’m going to give you is this: Keanu Reeves, as Neo / Thomas Anderson, is alive, and works for the biggest gaming company in the world. He has a boss, and it’s the boss talking to Keanu / Neo:
“I’m sure you can understand why our beloved parent company Warner Brothers has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy.”
- “What?” (that’s Keanu saying “what”)
“They inform me they’re going to do it with or without us.”
- “I thought they couldn’t do that.”
“Oh, they can, and they will, and they made it clear they’ll kill our contract if we don’t cooperate.”

Okay. So. The people, who have made this film, including the director Lana Wachowski, didn’t want to make this film. If you include lines of dialogue in a film, and mention Warner Brothers specifically, being the company that Lana is saying she was pressured into making this film by, what possible incentive is there to make a decent flick?

I have no idea just how resentful Lana might be, but she’s certainly delivered on her contractual obligation, as have apparently Keanu and Carrie-Anne Moss.

How are their characters alive, you may ask, since we watched both of them die for the good of all humanity at the end of the dismal Revolutions? Well, the pesky machines, the AIs that dominate the Earth in the future and who enslaved humanity, literally within the context of the movie resurrect both of them, put them back in pods like they were in the beginning, and use Neo to keep enslaving humanity.

In the Matrix, as in, the virtual reality within the context of the films where most of humanity live and think is their actual real lives playing out, the machines resurrected Neo in order to have him keep enslaving humanity with entertainment.

That entertainment, within the Matrix, is the Matrix films. So the people enslaved by the Matrix are the ones who are entertained by the Matrix films / games.

So that would mean… we’re the ones enslaved by the machines? Or is it the Wachowskis, who feel they're enslaved by Warner Brothers?

Rating:

Petite Maman

Petite Maman

The petite mamans will inherit the earth, and all the candy that
comes with it

dir: Cèline Sciamma

2021

Little mum. That’s how I choose to translate the title. It’s probably ‘little mother’, but I ain’t fancy like that.

Petite Maman is such a tiny, small-scaled flick, with its tiny, 8 year old protagonist. She is Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), and she’s just lost her grandmother. Her mother Marion (Nina Meurisse) is stunned by grief. They clear out gran’s room at the old folk’s home, and then travel to clear out grandma’s home – the home Marion grew up in.

It’s an old kind of place (I guess, I mean I have no reference point for what places in France should look like, if they haven’t been renovated since the 90s?), and Marion’s childhood stuff is all still there, which she feels ambivalent about.

Nelly and Marion grieve in their own, confused ways, sleeping wherever feels most appropriate, pottering and such.

And then Marion leaves, because it’s all too much.

Nelly and her dad (Stéphane Varupenne) are meant to be clearing the place out over the next couple of days, but Nelly is more interested in finding the place in the woods nearby where her mother told her she once built a fort out of branches and such when she was a kid, about Nelly’s present age.

She finds the place, four trees in something of a square. There happens to be a young girl there, building the fort. I guess it’s something of a coincidence that the other girl is called Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), and she happens to look a lot like Nelly. They work together a while, and then run to Marion’s place when a downpour starts.

Even though they go in the opposite direction to where Nelly is staying, you kind of know what’s going to happen – this isn’t a mystery, or a thriller. It’s a gentle meditation on motherhood, grief, wanting somehow to say goodbye properly to someone for whom that option no longer exists, and the wondering many kids must do about what their parents were like when they themselves were kids.

They get to Marion’s house, and of course it’s identical to where Nelly is staying, only it’s back in time. Marion’s mother (Margo Abascal) already walks with the same cane that Nelly, in the present, asked if she could keep when her grandmother died. She is protective of Marion, as she is about to go to hospital for some kind of worrying surgery.

Rating:

The Power of the Dog

Power of the Dog

This is so not a Western, and yet... People will be tricked
into thinking it so

dir: Jane Campion

2021

What a film. What a strange, alluring film.

I guarantee you’ve seen no film like it this year, or pretty much any year.

Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a cruel piece of shit. His brother George (Jesse Plemons) is not a cruel piece of shit, but he does put up with a fair amount of abuse. They run a cattle ranch somewhere in Montana (it’s really the south east coast Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island, but, the magic of movies), and they are quite successful at it.

Phil rules the men that work for him with an iron fist, disdaining anything that might be delicate or gentle. He sees some flowers, constructed from paper, and it fills him with loathing and contempt, which he directs at the maker of said flowers, being Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

This isn’t, not that his cruelties would be any more justifiable if it were, frontier times or Civil War times or anything, it’s like 1925. The Roaring 20s. What even is this cowboy bullshit when there’s cars and trucks and stuff on the roads?

Phil don’t care. Everything that ever mattered he learned from Bronco Henry, a man we never get to meet, but who looms over Phil’s consciousness all of the time.

George, the other brother, is not like Phil. He doesn’t do the grunt work on the ranch with the grunts in their employ. He dresses fancy, waxes his moustache and schmoozes with, I dunno, governors and mayors and the like. When he sees a woman like the widow Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), or her son Peter, he isn’t filled with an inexplicable rage. Instead he sees some gentle folk who he could have a life with, much to Phil’s disgust.

Every review you might read, including this one here, keep talking about what a cruel sonofabitch Phil is, but none of the reviews can really capture the extent of it, despite the fact that his cruelty is not like, I dunno, Hannibal Lecter or anything. He never physically threatens her, and rarely if ever speaks to her. But he finds his ways, he does, of making her feel worthless.

Rating:

Passing

Passing

I've been trying to pass for human for over 40 years, and
I don't think I've quite nailed it yet

dir: Rebecca Hall

2021

I’ve seen a few films, even just this week, made recently but in black and white for stylistic reasons, mostly. I think this one is in black and white for entirely different reasons.

Set in Harlem in the 1920s, this flick centers itself less around the idea of people of African-American backgrounds passing for “white” in a climate still hostile to black people (unlike the enlightened era we all live in 100 years later), and more around the complex friendship between two women, Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga).

The film is based on a novel by Nella Larsen, written in the 20s, and though I don’t think it’s autobiographical per se, the author herself had a complicated heritage, and these notions of passing for white, or, failing that, passing for being “European” might have been a big deal in her life too.

The two women knew each other at school, but Clare’s father’s death saw her move away twelve years ago. When they reconnect, it is by chance, at a hotel restaurant. Irene is not trying to pass for white in this initial sequence; it seems more like she just doesn’t want shopkeepers and doormen to notice that she’s black. Her cloche hat is pulled down far enough, and is current fashion, so if people assume, she doesn’t correct them.

Clare, on the other hand, is blonde, and looks like a silent era movie star. When Irene finally recognises her, and is eventually introduced to her husband (Alexander Skarsgård), she realises her childhood friend is passing for white, and is somewhat surprised.

Even more surprising is the crap the husband says, including his nickname for his wife, and the ‘fact’ that she hates African-Americans even more than he does.

Irene doesn’t mention the obvious stuff that we realise: that both the women he’s talking to are black. She may still have some wariness towards Clare, but she doesn’t want to blow her cover.

When Irene returns to “her” world of the suburb of Harlem, she feels safe in her “element”, and no longer has to camouflage as someone other than “black”. She has a nice house, a husband Brian (Andre Holland) and two young boys, whom she wants to protect from the harshness of the world they live in. This America, decades after the Civil War, is still not a safe place generally for their people. Lynchings happen and get reported all the time, more with glee in the papers rather than sorrow. I don’t know the specific year this film is set in the 1920s, but the Tulsa Massacre happened in 1923, so that would have been recent history.

And New York, far from being the safe, multicultural metropolis of the imagination, is still a place of open tensions.

Rating:

Dune Part 1

Dune

All these people worried about what spices are going to
be served at dinner

dir: Denis Villeneuve

2021

I was a bit worried when I heard that Denis Villenueve was tackling Dune, but I shouldn’t have worried. He’s probably one of the consistently best directors making big budget movies around. Look at this list of movies: Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 and now Dune, all solid movies.

Maybe I was a bit more worried about Timothée Chalamet as the lead, because, look at him, he’s Timothée Chalamet, for fuck’s sake. He’s no Kyle McLachlan, that’s for sure.

But he does okay. If ever a role called for a moody emo kid in a trenchcoat to look moody and such, well, Chalamet is your boy.

The scale is BIG, everything is really BIG. Production values, through the roof! There’s nothing cheap about this production, no siree.

I am one of the few people who actually has fond memories of the ‘original’ version of this, directed by David Lynch, that came in 1984. I liked it, but I was twelve. That’s not an excuse, it’s just that at 12 I liked a bunch of things that maybe weren’t great. I hadn’t discovered women yet and wouldn’t do so for many more years, so maybe I didn’t have a lot of life experience as to what stuff was great and what stuff sucked back then.

I saw it at the movies, and I saw it a stack more times on a VHS copy in the following years. I know that long arse flick backwards. Kyle McLachlan played Paul Atriedes, Francesca Annis played his mum, and a whole bunch of other legends played various characters. Sir Fucking Patrick Stewart was in it! Dean Stockwell! Sean Young? Jurgen Prochnow? Virginia Madsen? And there were giant worms, and people could kill people with just using their voices. And it had an amazing look to it, both retro and ultra futuristic.

I’m not here to defend that film, just to say while it might have been a bomb, no film David Lynch has ever made has ever been completely worthless (with the possible exception of Fire Walk With Me). And I read the book too, but the film always mattered more to me than the book did.

Fidelity to the book also never really concerned me that much. This flick does everything it can to make this all seem serious and important. There’s no fucking around here: everything is deadly serious. The state of, um, the universe is at stake.

Rating:

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