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2021

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:

Eternals

Marvel's Eternals

Here we stand, all on an angle, all pretending to look at
something. It's all ever so compelling.

dir: Chloé Zhao

2021

Strange days have found us…

Marvel is so confident in its marketing abilities that the masses will consume anything that says ‘Marvel’ on it, that they’re making movies out of the unloved, unwanted, unsuccessful parts of their back catalogue deliberately now. No-one’s been able to make the Eternals work as an ongoing series, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone was really clamoring for them to appear in cinematic form.

Ironically, this feels the least like a Marvel flick, despite being extruded ultimately into such a familiar final form.

We know nothing of these beings, of their characters beforehand, but we’ll be too familiar with them when two and a half hours have elapsed. When some of them ‘die’, we might feel nothing, not even mild surprise.

The ‘trick’ earlier Marvel flicks pulled was having a character, oh, let’s say one played by a very tall blonde Australian, which is a character known of outside of comic books but also within comic books, being Thor, a hammer wielding jerk with a murderous trickster for a brother, being Loki.

The conceit is that, sure, on this Earth we know of the Norse myth of the very strong, very dumb son of Odin who wields a hammer called Mjolnir and gets drunk a lot, but in the ‘reality’ of these movies, the myth springs from the reality, which is that there’s actually a guy called Thor, and he has a hammer, and lives in another realm called Asgard, and they’re so advanced they’re kinda like gods?

Well, if you can swallow that claptrap, let me introduce you to a bunch of other superbeings who also sounds familiarish because their names appear in a bunch of disparate Earth mythologies.

I can’t bring myself to even type their names, because it feels so generic. The important thing to say is that, there’s ten of them, and they came to Earth on a spaceship thousands of years ago, and they’ve protected humans from these monstrous creatures called Deviants. Whenever these creatures appeared, the Eternals destroyed them using their powers, and then they’d sit around for ages waiting for the next attack.

In between attacks, human civilisations generally flourished, populations grew, but the Eternals weren’t getting involved any of the other times when bad stuff happened, nor were they meant to protect humans from their own stupidity.

These Eternals mostly have analogs in old stories, because, we’re meant to think, they would occasionally get bored and tell people, or want to speak to someone’s manager, and bellow “do you know who I am and what I’ve done for your wretched species?”

Rating:

The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch

All so many people, most with very little of worth to do

dir: Wes Anderson

2021

It’s impossible to know whether this flick is peak Wes Anderson, or whether his next flick will be even fussier. Each time one of his flicks come out, I think “it can’t get any fussier than this, can it?” and every time I’m wrong.

At this late stage of his career, to expect any different would be foolish.

The French Dispatch’s full title is The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun. How you feel immediately after hearing or reading that could impact on your reaction towards the film. If, upon hearing that, you rolled your eyes so hard you might have strained something, or you fought the instant urge to punch a kitten in the face, the preciousness of the ensuing endeavor may be a tad too much for thee.

After all, fans of Wes Anderson films are a special bunch. Like the collectors of Sylvanian Families anthropomorphised unholy animal hybrids or the people who are now drinking their own pee as a coronavirus cure, they’re not like other humanoids. Imagine the kind of person for whom Wes Anderson movies are the best movies they’ve ever seen.

You’re either picturing Wes Anderson himself, possibly wearing a cravat or an ascot, or legions of penny farthing riding, artisanal picklers, waxed moustache baristas or people who crave a gluten free lifestyle despite not being gluten-intolerant.

In other words such a creature doesn’t really exist. And yet those films keep being made, and someone must be seeing them.

Well, I saw this one now, and it’s not only a homage to all things fussy and Andersonian; it’s also a love letter to that other bastion of fussiness and great writing, being the New Yorker magazine. Why the pretense that it’s a French supplement to a Kansas newspaper? I have no idea, other than that Anderson wanted to set this flick in France in a town literally called Boredom-on-Apathy (Ennui-sur-Blasé) because that counts for humour in Wes Anderson World. Though the parallels with the New Yorker are fairly transparent and one-to-one, maybe it’s a reference to The Paris Review as well, which was founded by amongst others, George Plimpton, that silver haired razor wit and raconteur.

Yeah, nah, probably not. The editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr (Bill Murray), is probably even fussier than Wes Anderson himself. There are an array of other editors and cronies, all mostly played by the other hangers on and goons who usually populate Anderson’s films. Familiar faces. Familiar, goofy faces.

Mostly, the flick is held together with a tissue of connections, formatting, impeccable set design, but (mostly) is an anthology of stories, some more interesting than others.

Rating:

C'mon C'mon

Cmon Cmon

That wary look is the look of every parent when their kid does
something stupid

dir: Mike Mills

2021

I wish that I had seen this earlier, like, earlier last year. It would really have capped off the last, most dismal year hopefully that we’ll ever experience in our lifetimes.

Well, those of us who survived, I guess.

I was completely unprepared for how easily C’mon C’mon slipped through my critical defences and destroyed me, on a deep, deep level. There were multiple times where I was sobbing, and it’s not even a particularly “weepy” flick. It’s actually a quite joyous flick, in a lot of ways.

It feels like a film from a different era, and not just because it’s in black and white. It’s very contemporary in its efforts to get people, especially adults, to speak in helpful ways about their emotions, but it’s also not afraid to look at the fraught tensions between adults and children. A lot of the flick is Joaquin Phoenix interviewing kids. The kids aren’t acting. When they’re talking about the world or their parents or the future, it never felt like it was scripted.

My heart broke almost every time they spoke. They’re cautiously optimistic about the future regardless of their circumstances, but many of them can’t see past the dramas in their family lives. The kid who’s dad is in jail, and he’s there trying to get by, for his younger sister, because she’s all that matters…

I’m sorry, I’m already in a puddle again on the floor.

The film isn’t even mostly about that, but it does conjure up an atmosphere of optimism, somehow. Of hope. Not once is the pandemic mentioned. There’s not a single mask anywhere. I don’t know why that made me so happy. I didn’t even have to look it up to know that this was filmed just prior to, you know, all this craziness. That means this flick is like a fantasy, where the plague isn’t fucking things up for everyone across the world.

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:

We Need to Do Something

We Need to Do Something

How about let's not and say we did?

dir: Sean King O’Grady

2021

Can you imagine anything as terrifying as not being able to get away from your own family? Imagine being trapped inside with them, unable to get out, unable to go anywhere…

Well, what I mean is, imagine it happening to someone else, but not because of a dumb virus. And they’re Americans, so it’s okay if bad stuff happens to them. As the film opens, we watch a family voluntarily getting into a bathroom together. It’s a pretty big bathroom, at least. There’s a tornado coming, and they’re being casual about it, so I’m going to guess they’re in one of those states where tornadoes happen frequently and people are used to it, but never think to maybe move somewhere else where they don’t happen.

They will be there for a long time. If this screenplay suffers from any problems, it’s that it has a The Shining problem. I know it’s considered a Kubrick / horror classic, but most people rarely mention the fact that Jack Nicholson’s character is a prick and a nut right from the start. He really doesn’t have anywhere to go, other than from fairly nuts to totally nuts. There’s no arc, no development.

The dad (Pat Healy) here, too, is an abusive arsehole before things start going wrong, but at least the other family members can make eye contact with him at the start. Not so much later on.

There’s also a mom (Vinessa Shaw), a son (John James Cronin) and teenage daughter Melissa, or Mel (Sierra McCormick). They’re an average, very average, middle class family. They are fighting and sniping even before the storm happens.

What happens is, the house is damaged and it looks like a tree has trapped them in the bathroom. Forever, unless someone comes to help them out. Phones don’t work, or are conveniently lost.

“We need to do something” is said again and again, mostly by Mel. Thing is, though, the room is a perfect trap, and everything they try, down to brute force, doesn’t work.

The mum of course reassures the kids that everything will be all right, that help will come, that they won’t be harmed, they’ll be fine. The dad rants and raves, humiliated by his powerlessness, alternating between screaming obscenities at his wife, his kids or at the universe at random.

Contrasting parenting styles. Everything we see that happens to them, or doesn’t happen to them, occurs in this one room. It’s almost like they’re in a lockdown that never ends…

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:

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