23 thoughts on “Movies 2022

  1. Sword of Trust (2019)
    Dir. Lynne Shelton
    Starring: Marc Maron (Mel), Jon Bass (Nathaniel), Michaela Watkins (Mary), Jillian Bell (Cynthia)
    68/100

    This film is a mixed-bag, flawed, but entertaining moments that tilts the scales, creating somewhat fond feelings for the film. Maron’s performance is another reason for this as well as a subplot involving his character.

    Here’s a description of the plot: Mary and Cynthia try to pawn a recently received sword, which they claim proves the South actually won the Civil War. Mel, the pawnshop owner, being a sensible person, thinks this is nuts, and an insult to his intelligence. But after his assistant, Nathaniel, shows him a youtube Civil War conspiracy theorist offering big money for relics that can prove his claim, Mel changes his mind and hatches a plan to get the money.

    ***
    There were some solid laugh-out-loud moments, which is one reason I think fondly of the film. I’m not very familiar with Maron, but not did I enjoy his comedic moments, but there were some surprising dramatic moments in this film—surprising not only because at least of the moments came out of left field, but Maron’s dramatic acting was quite good. (I would compare that left-field moment to the Quint’s U.S.S. Indianapolis story in Jaws. It’s a very different movie, but both scenes were a left turn that I didn’t see coming.)

    At the same time, while these dramatic moments were effectively poignant, I still don’t see the connection with the larger theme of the movie—specifically, the skewering of conspiracy theorists, specifically Trump supporters that embrace election fraud falsehoods. At the end of the film, Mel seems to give in a bit to his old girlfriend, displaying several acts of kindness. But this underscores the lack of graciousness and mercy towards the people the film makes fun of. Is there no compassion for them from progressives?

    One last disappointment, and it relates somewhat to the last point above—namely, the film’s failure to satisfy viewers with an understanding of these Trump supporters. The film actually teases the viewer with this promise. I’m thinking specifically of Mel’s speech in the van, where he explains the reason he’s going to see the guy in person, in spite of the foolishness of doing so. (I liked this moment.) The end is a cop out, pulling the rub under viewers, to some degree.

  2. The Sparks Brothers (2021)
    Dir. Edgar Wright

    “Throughout all the years I’ve been making music, if you get on a tour bus, and you sit on a long ride with a bunch of other musicians, eventually the conversation will go to Sparks.” That’s what the musician Beck said in this documentary about Sparks, or more specifically brothers Ron and Russell Mael, the nucleus of the group. Surprise was how I reacted to this comment–because I had never heard of Sparks, at all. It’s not like I’m a musical expert, but I’m interested enough in music to think that I would have at least heard of this group. In any case, I only watched this because of a friend’s recommendation, and I’m glad I did.

    I’ll mention two reasons I enjoyed the film—one, Edgar Wright’s creative and amusing direction, and, two, learning about the brothers and their interesting music. Surprisingly, their actual music was the least appealing thing—it’s everything else that I found interesting. (I’ll say more about this later.) In this way, they remind me of my reaction to John Cage, the iconoclastic composer and thinker.

    If I have one criticism, it’s the lack of deeper analysis of Sparks’ aesthetic and approach. The Mael brothers don’t say a lot about their approach, nor do the featured talking heads–well, not enough to satisfy me anyway.

    ***
    One thing that seems to set this band apart from other groups, doing similar things, is the naturalness and sincerity behind the music, which makes the satire and humor much more subtle—but also likely more confusing and odd for at least some viewers. A group like The Residents, for example, (who came to mind while watching this) is blatantly bizarre,
    putting them clearly in the underground, avant-garde category. Nor are they blatantly satirical (read: over-the-top) like Weird Al or even Spinal Tap, which can result in failing to notice the satire and humor. Sparks does has just enough qualities for viewers to think they are a legitimate pop group. But there odd features, the subject matter and lyrics, as well as Russ’s singing style, and both of the brothers’ stage personae, can creates a dissonance that could leave listeners with some doubts. They basically seem to have placed themselves and their music in gray zone, at least to some.

    Earlier, I mentioned that other aspects of Sparks, besides the music, interested me. Their perseverance and commitment to their art are an example of this. In their appearances in the film, they seem like low-key individuals–there are almost no expressions of passion or anguish–including when they speak about struggles and slow periods in their career. This give the impression that they chug through these hard times and move onto to new things, unwavering and confident, in almost a machine-like fashion. I think this is very different from artists who don’t have a lot of commercial success–particularly those that actually tasted mainstream success and actually make music that has this potential. I came away with the sense that money and fame were far less important than their artistic vision (but to be honest I didn’t think the film really tried to dig into these topics).

    I also like the visual and performance features of the group. I wished Wright dug into this more–including Ron’s stage persona with silent film icons like Chaplin and Hulot. It seems clear that Ron is going for this. At the same time, his early stage persona seemed to be an ambiguous mixture of Chaplin and Hitler. Was that a mistake or intentional?

    Russ’s stage persona seems more subtle–namely, there is less affectation. His persona and stage performances seem natural and genuine, as if it reflects Russ, more than being a construct like Ziggy Stardust. But I’m uncertain about this. There’s a doll-like, pretty-boy quality–similar to other pop lead vocalists, and give their penchant for satire and humor, I wonder if this is an artifice designed to make the satire more effective and biting. Again, as far as I can recall, this isn’t a question the film really explores.

    Although the music itself, at least on the surface, doesn’t really appeal to me, and I’m not keen on analyzing lyrics, the film showed me enough to do both (or at least plan to).

    1. The coworker who recommended I see Annette also recommended this, since the Sparks brothers wrote Annette. I haven’t gotten to it yet because I have other things on the to-view list.

    2. Yeah, the documentary definitely increased me interest in seeing Annette.

      By the way, did you hear of Sparks before? while growing up? I don’t remember them at all, although when I heard “Cool Places” (with Jane Wiedin), the song sounded vaguely familiar.

      Edit:

      The one thing I forgot to mention. I like their album covers. I believe Ron’s undergraduate degree is in art, and I think it shows in their album covers.

      null

      Kimono My House

      (I like the title, Kimono My House as well.)

      1. I was aware of them, and I heard a few things (Cool Places was a minor MTV hit, so I totally remember that), but nothing stuck with me. When we were in our first years of college, there was a Christian alt-pop-dance group called Sparks and I kept getting the two bands confused. The Christian band was only okay, and I think they only put out two or three albums.

        1. Tangential follow-up.

          Sparks the Christian band was Greg and Rebecca Sparks, who released two albums as Sparks and one as Greg and Rebecca Sparks.

          I knew I was forgetting part of the story, and (as often) AllMusic had the answer. Greg and Rebecca spun off from an earlier dance group called Bash ‘n the Code, whom I did like very much.

          Turns out Greg and Rebecca are still touring and performing together, which is nice to hear.

          This was my favorite Bash ‘n the Code song. “Big Mouth” (1987).

  3. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2018)
    Dir. Bi Gan
    73/100

    This Chinese movie, unrelated to the Eugene O’Neil play, is about a man searching for a woman in his past. Talking about this film–or I should say, analyzing it–is too difficult; I would compare it to analyzing and explicating a poem, and in this case, without having a good grasp of it.

    In spite of this, I enjoyed the film. One thing I regret, though: I didn’t realize this was in 3D, and I wish I could have seen it with the 3D glasses–in a good movie theater.

  4. Mixtape (2021), streaming on Netflix
    Gemma Brooke Allen, Julie Bowen, Audrey Hsieh, Olga Petsa, Nick Thune. Directed by Valerie Weiss. Written by Stacey Menear.

    Twelve-year-old Beverly lost her parents in a car accident when she was two. She lives with Gail, her forty-something postal carrier grandmother who worries about paying for Beverly’s college education — if the world survives the Y2K virus.

    When Beverly discovers a mixtape in her mother’s things, she thinks there may be a message for her in the songs.

    The tape is snarled in her Walkman the first time she tries to listen, so with the help of two new friends at school — also loners — and a shaggy Gen Xer who owns a record store with no customers, she finds the songs, track-by-track, on a quest to discover the stuff nobody wants to tell.

    Dwyer’s Law of Supporting Characters says if at least three of the main character’s friends, relatives or antagonists are interesting enough to make you wish for movies about each of them, you have at least a pretty good film. It’s a rare occurrence, but Mixtape satisfies this law. And while the young actors’ performances are spotty at times, they deliver enough emotional gut-punching to make me tear up several times.

    The music is outstanding, with killer songs by the Stooges, Cheap Trick, Lit, Vertical Horizon and Vitamin C. While these great songs lead to an almost inevitable closing scene I really dislike, I’m pretty sure twelve-year-old me would have loved the end. Watch it with your tweens or early teens and let me know if I’m right.

    80 of 100 for a creative idea with compelling characters and a movie that would have been an all-time favorite for young me.

    1. Dwyer’s Law of Supporting Characters says if at least three of the main character’s friends, relatives or antagonists are interesting enough to make you wish for movies about each of them…

      This is a very high bar. I’m curious to hear the other films that satisfied this law.

      By the way, the film looked interesting, but I got the sense that I would be unfamiliar with the music on the mixtape, so that dissuaded me.

      1. One of its big failings is the music isn’t emphasized nearly enough so it won’t be a problem. I’m almost sure.

    2. One of its big failings is the music isn’t emphasized nearly enough so it won’t be a problem. I’m almost sure.

      Yeah, but I agree with you–not emphasizing the music is a bit disappointing. The music, and the way the film weaves it into the characters and story, was what appeals to me.

      1. That’s two strikes. Too bad the soundtrack isn’t also loaded with songs by Fastway, to make it an immediate strikeout.

  5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2018)
    Dir. Celine Sciamma
    78/100

    Portrait of a Lady on Fire

    A French film about a female artist, Marianne (Noemie Merlant), hired to paint a woman, Heloise (Adele Haenel), who is betrothed to a man she doesn’t know. The man will only marry her if he likes what he sees in the portrait. Heloise knows this so she has refused cooperate. To get around this, Heloise’s mother, the Countess (Valeria Golino), presents Marianne as a walking companion (who will secretly paint Heloise’s portrait).

    I believe the film won the best screenplay award at Cannes, and I do think some of the dialogue justifies this. If we can credit the absence of certain characters to the screenplay, that would be another aspect that made the screenplay award worthy.

    Having said that, the acting may actually outshine the screenplay. In my view, a lot of the action occurs from what is not said–specifically, from the facial expressions, particularly of the two leads.

    ***
    This is definitely a feminist film, exploring the ways a patriarchal society restricts and harms women, but I really liked it for themes concerning art and artists–namely, the artist’s devotion to their art, and the way art can sustain human beings, particularly in the midst of painful moments.

  6. Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)
    Dir. Louis Malle
    Starring: Wallace Shawn (Vanya), Julianne Moore (Yelena), Larry Pines (Dr. Astrov), Brooke Smith (Sonya), George Gaynes (Prof. Serebryakov), etc.
    78/100

    I owned the DVD of this for a long time, but never got around to watching it. I recently decided to watch this after seeing Drive My Car, as Uncle Vanya seems like a critical part of the film.

    I’m too lazy to write a proper review, so what follows will be notes and comments.

    • I saw a performance of Uncle Vanya in college, and loved it. I may have read it and seen it several years after that, and had the same reaction. But before watching it recently, I worried I may no longer feel the same–primarily because I worried that the emotional dialogue would seem false or too maudlin. Happily, that wasn’t the case.
    • Strangely, the viewing did vindicate my initial concern. For example, in my view, the dialogue, which are, at times, function more like monologues or speeches, could–almost should–come across as maudlin and maybe pretentious. But they don’t. Additionally, I don’t really think the play establishes the characters all the much before the characters express themselves. Finally, in a way, one could reasonably describe some of the dialogue and characters as whining and whiners, respectively–and they’re mostly whining about First World problems (e.g., “I could have been the next Schopenhauer or Dostoevsky!”); or the characters seem mostly middle class, with some of them being well-educated.
    • But in spite of this, I dialogue and emotions worked, which I find surprising. How? Why? At this moment, I have no answer.
    • The play is very modern–people sitting around talking. Still, of the 20th and 21st century movies that are in the same vein, I’m not sure any of them are as dramatic or moving.
    • I was really drawn to Larry Pines, and enjoyed watching his performance. I also liked Julianne Moore and Brooke Smith. On the other hand, I thought they should have cast someone else for Vanya role (maybe Larry Pines?), instead of Wallace Shawn. To me, his comic persona, from films like Princess Bride distracted me, and I think his performance lacked the pathos and dramatic weight it required. But Shawn wasn’t as bad as I’m making him out to be; he certainly didn’t ruin the film for me.
    • David Mamet adapted the play for the screen, but besides some of the scenes that take place outside of the play, I’m not sure how he modified the script. (The film starts with the actors appearing at a theater to rehearse the play. They acted out scenes and then there are pauses at certain points, with the director calling for a break or describing an upcoming scene.)
    • I have an older DVD, and the there are moments when the camera tilts, almost as if the characters are on a large ship during rough seas. I can’t exactly tell if this is intentional or if this some weird trick to make the film work for a TV screen.
    • I liked this a lot more than Drive My Car.
  7. Metal Lords (2022 streaming on Netflix)
    Jaeden Martell, Adrian Greensmith, Isis Hainsworth. Written by D. B. Weiss. Directed by Peter Sollett.

    Kevin and Hunter are in a metal band whose name is so metal I can’t say it here, and they attend a high school where nobody else cares about metal. Kevin isn’t sure he cares about metal himself, as he only plays drums in his school band to avoid taking P.E., but Hunter is his best friend and best friends stick together.

    “If we devote ourselves to metal, we’ll own this school,” says Hunter, who clearly doesn’t know anything because believe me: devoting yourself to metal in high school has exactly the opposite effect.

    It’s a pretty good premise, but Metal Lords manages to be engaging and boring at the same time, something I didn’t think was possible. Perhaps it’s because the movie runs through a checklist of teen movie elements as if it’s entered in a John Hughes tribute festival.

    There’s a house party, a talent show, underage drinking, a disconnected wealthy parent, some bullying, and a strict-but-understanding school counselor. Your teens may find it novel, but you’ve seen most of it before.

    Yet Kevin and his potential love interest Emily are interesting characters, wriggling their way believably through the complexities of high school life, and if Hunter weren’t around, they’d have a good chance at figuring out how to get through.

    Almost nothing in this film would happen in real life, but if you can let it go—and if you can manage not to be bored—you might ride along for Kevin’s coming of age and find some pretty good redemption and decent human connection here.

    It’s a 50 out of 100, but I’m giving it four bonus points for a good soundtrack and funny cameos by members of Judas Priest, Rage Against the Machine, Metallica and Anthrax.

    54/100.

    1. Kevin and Hunter are in a metal band whose name is so metal I can’t say it here, and they attend a high school where nobody else cares about metal. Kevin isn’t sure he cares about metal himself, as he only plays drums in his school band to avoid taking P.E., but Hunter is his best friend and best friends stick together.

      This totally has your name written on it.

      1. I’ll probably see it again so I can appreciate more of the positive stuff, which I don’t mention enough of. The metal cred in this film is actually excellent. Tom Morello was the musical consultant (or something like that) and wrote the band’s one original song. The writer and director definitely know their metal.

  8. First Cow (2019)
    Dir. Kelly Reichardt
    72/100

    ***
    Notes of the film (with spoilers)

    • I found the performances and scenes understated, as if the filmmakers intentionally drained both of drama or anything that would make them entertaining. Think of Bresson’s approach, but less extreme. Then again, perhaps other viewers would disagree. For me, not only did the performances/actors and scenes seem devoid of drama–that is, they seemed mundane–I didn’t think the actors had a lot of chemistry. Specifically, the two main characters develop a substantive friendship, but the scenes or chemistry didn’t seem enough to establish this…One could argue that the depiction of the friendship was subtle, and maybe I’m not appreciating this subtlety.

      On the other hand, to my surprise, the last sequence moved me, specifically the line–“I’ve got you.” The film shows a friendship in more prosaice situations, and my reaction perhaps vindicates the filmmakers’ approach.

    • I’m not sure about the meaning of the film’s title or the larger significance of the cow in the film. I must say the cow was beautiful, particularly in the way it conveyed a sense of gentleness and kindness. IT reminded me of the donkey in au Hasard Baltazar.
    • Besides friendship, what is this movie about? We see two outsiders pursuing the American dream, but people like them, the pessimist, or realist, would argue, have no chance. But there is one thing they can attain in this world–friendship. And that can be something beautiful. In a way, this makes me think of Leaving Las Vegas. The main character is doomed, but to have someone love him is somehow beautiful.
  9. Kongsi Raya (2022, streaming on Netflix)
    Qasrina Karim and Wilson Lee. Directed by Teddy Chin.
    In Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese and English with English subtitles.

    Sharifah is a young television producer on her celebrity father’s TV cooking show.

    Jack is a talented cook in his father’s Chinese restaurant. He will be the third generation of chefs to run the business.

    Kongsi Raya takes almost forever to get going, but when Sharifah and Jack finally meet and fall in love, everything should be great. She’s Malaysian and he’s Chinese, and while they’re willing to navigate their cultural differences, their fathers are not. Jack is disowned. Sharifah lies to her parents about Jack, saying he is the boyfriend of her new BFF.

    This movie’s got a lot going on, and it’s a real mixed bag. There are several cartoonishly silly scenes so exaggerated they seem to belong to another movie, including an early scene that’s kind of cruel and gruesome but meant to be funny. Add the seldom-believable character-in-drag gimmick, and you almost have an easy-to-skip flick.

    Yet the food photography makes you want to lick the screen, and the Iron-Chef-like televised competition between the fathers is kind of a neat idea. And when this film gets sweet, it’s verrrry sweet.

    My eyes may have rolled three or four times, but my heart was warmed an equal number of times. The single most important element of a good romantic comedy is how believable the relationship is, and although we don’t get enough time alone with Sharifah and Jack, their sincerity tilts the balance in this movie’s favor.

    Although I’ve seen several movies with dialogue in Malay, I think this is my first Malaysian film. I’m not naive enough to believe watching movies from other countries is by itself enough to bring world peace, but soaking up art from different cultures makes us better, and I think it’s a step. So check it out.

    I’m giving it 67 out of 100: it’s on the north end of average.

  10. Force Majeure (2014)
    Dir. Ruben Ostlund
    72/100

    Here is a filmmaker that makes me excited. In terms of the visuals and acting, notably the comedic acting, I would say he’s among the best current directors. Based on these two factors alone, I’d want to see all of his films–except for one caveat. I’ve only seen two of his films, but based on them, my sense is that he seems to revel in making audiences squirm with awkward moments, often with a moral dimension. I also get the impression that the films partly target fears and weaknesses that are often acute in men. This can make his films difficult to watch–and yet, they’re great to look at, well-acted, and, at times, funny.

    In this film, a family (Swedish) vacation at a ski lodge. The film centers around a significant failing of the father (I’m being intentionally vague), and the way the family deal with this.

    ***

    There is one disappointment, and it is not insignificant. The film cops out, in a way that almost feels like Hollywood-style executives intervened and interfered with the film. Then again, maybe my reading of the third act is wrong.

    Right or wrong, here’s my take of the third act. The father’s main failing is that he fails to admit and express remorse for his failing. Once he does that he is forgiven. I don’t object to this. But then, the father acts in quasi-courageous way–and the film depicts this scene with him carrying his wife in his arms.

    I’m less certain about the final images of the film, involving the people getting off the bus and walking. The father admitting to his son that he does smoke feels like a trite signal that he’s changed his ways and his walking at the head of the crowd creates an almost triumphant feeling.

    That one can find healing and restoration through confession and contrition is not a message I reject or sneer at. But the subsequent scenes feel a little excessive, almost as if he’s working hard to please the audience.

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