Recent Movie Marathon: Encanto (2021)

Happy New Year! I’m kicking off 2022 by watching and reviewing a bunch of movies from 2021.

Title: Encanto
Release Date: November 24, 2021
Director: Jared Bush & Byron Howard
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures & Walt Disney Animation Studios

In Disney’s latest animated musical, we meet the Madrigal family of Columbia who have magical abilities and live in an enchanted house (“Casita”).   The main character is Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), a 15-year-old who is the only member of the family who did not receive a magical gift.  The premise is simple, Mirabel must use her natural gifts of empathy and resourcefulness to hold the family together during a crisis.

This is one of those movies where a summary would not do the film justice.  This is partly because much of the “magic” of this film is the bright colors and beautiful visuals.  It’s also blessed with catch tunes by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who seems to be everywhere these days).  Finally the interrelation of the large, extended family each with individual talents and personality quirks just won’t translate to a list.

I enjoyed Encanto and it’s a worthy addition to the growing library of Disney animated features.

Rating: ***1/2

Recent Movie Marathon: The Green Knight (2021)

Happy New Year! I’m kicking off 2022 by watching and reviewing a bunch of movies from 2021.

Title: The Green Knight
Release Date: July 30, 2021
Director: David Lowery
Production Company: Ley Line Entertainment | Bron Creative | Wild Atlantic Pictures | Sailor Bear
Summary/Review: Film can be a lot of things but it is primarily a visual medium.  The Green Knight is a visual feast that uses the language of cinema to adapt poetry from the 14th century. It has all the magic and mystery of ancient tale with the techniques of modern cinema. And while a serious story, it possibly features humorous allusions to Monty Python and Ylvis.  While I enjoy movies of various styles, there are some that complain that contemporary movies are too fast-paced.  For them, this is a treat, a slow-paced film with room to breathe and ratchet up the tension (albeit not so slow-paced as to feature a character eating a pie for 10 minutes).

Gawain (Dev Patel) is the nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris), who aspires to be a knight, but spends much of his time in alehouses and brothels.  On Christmas Day, he’s invited to sit beside the King and Queen (Kate Dickie) at a feast that is interrupted by the arrival of The Green Knight (Ralph Ineson).  Gawain rashly takes up the Green Knight’s challenge which requires him to journey northward to the Green Chapel to face the Green Knight again on the following Christmas.

The bulk of the movie is Gawain’s journey and the adventures he has along the way.  Patel is great in the lead role of young man who aspires to be courageous but doubts he has it in him.  Alicia Vikander plays a dual role as Gawain’s commoner lover Essel and as the Lady of the manor where Gawain stops on his journey, and if I didn’t know it beforehand I wouldn’t have realized they were same actor.  Joel Edgerton plays a key role as the Lord of the manor.

I’ve always enjoyed the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ever since I first read it in a Medieval Literature course in college.  It was also the theme of the very first Christmas Revels I ever attended in 1996 in Washington, D.C. It’s great to see the story gain new life in such a stunning medium.  This is definitely a movie I will need to watch again on the big screen.

Rating: ****1/2

Recent Movie Marathon: Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Happy New Year! I’m kicking off 2022 by watching and reviewing a bunch of movies from 2021.

Title : Judas and the Black Messiah
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Director: Shaka King
Production Company: MACRO | Participant | Bron Creative | Proximity

Judas and the Black Messiah is a biographical story of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, and Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), an FBI informant who infiltrated the Party.  The result of O’Neal’s work was the coordinated  assassination by the FBI, Chicago Police, and Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office  of Hampton while he slept early on the morning of December 4, 1969. The movie also depicts the budding romance of Hampton and Black Panther Party member Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback), who would give birth to their child only 25 days after Hampton’s death.

I’ve long felt that Hampton is one of the great overlooked activists of American history with a unique  ability to unite people across across racial lines towards common cause.  Had he lived longer (Hampton was only 21 when he was killed), I believe that he and other people he inspired would’ve changed the course of American history for the better.  This of course is why he was targeted in the first place by J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) and others who wanted to preserve systems of white supremacy.

Apart from doing an excellent job of telling the story of Hampton and his betrayal with great performances by Kaluuya and Stanfield, and great direction by Shaka King, this movie is deft in its storytelling and characterization. Hampton’s fiery rhetoric while giving speeches is balanced by his quiet moments of love and dedication to the people. O’Neal is treated sympathetically, albeit not without judgement, and you can understand how he was motivated by fear and misinformation.  Even O’Neal’s FBI handler Roy Mitchell (a composite character portrayed by Jesse Plemons) is depicted as sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement and suspicious of Hoover’s unbridled racist antagonism, although none of this prevents him from stopping the plan to assassinate Hampton.

Judas and the Black Messiah is a good introduction to Fred Hampton’s story and touches on many issues that remain sadly relevant today. If you like this movie, I also recommend watching the documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and reading the book The Assassination of Fred Hampton by Jeffrey Haas.

Rating: ****1/2

Recent Movie Marathon: Passing (2021)

Happy New Year! I’m kicking off 2022 by watching and reviewing a bunch of movies from 2021.

Title: Passing
Release Date: October 27, 2021
Director: Rebecca Hall
Production Company: Significant Productions | Picture Films | Flat Five Productions | Film4 Productions | Gamechanger Films | Sweet Tomato Films | Endeavor Content

Set in the 1920s in New York City, Passing stars Tessa Thompson as Irene Redfield, a light skinned Black woman living in Harlem and married to a successful Black doctor.  By chance, Irene meets up with a friend from childhood, Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga), who is passing as white and is married to the nakedly racist John (Alexander Skarsgård).  Initially, Irene wants nothing more to do with Clare, but gradually they begin spending more time together. Clare enjoys reconnecting with African-American culture and becomes close with Irene’s husband Brian (André Holland) and their children.

Passing uses a delicate approach to dealing with serious issues.  A lot of the message of this movie is said in facial expressions and reactions rather than words.  The cinematography and editing also do a great job of capturing the everyday rhythms of life in 1920s New York.  Passing is a slow burn but it’s a good one and worth a watch.

Rating: ****

Recent Movie Marathon: The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (2021)

Happy New Year! I’m kicking off 2022 by watching and reviewing a bunch of movies from 2021.

Title: The Map of Tiny Perfect Things
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Director: Ian Samuels
Production Company: FilmNation Entertainment | Weed Road Pictures | Wishmore Entertainment

I saw this movie described as “If John Green did Groundhog Day,” which I think captures of the gist of the movie but undersells the originality and charm of the movie. Yes, this movie does namecheck Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow, and shares similarities with Palm Springs and other time loop movies. But as a teen comedy/drama/fantasy/romance it also uses the time loop trope to effectively examine the problems of young people ranging from dealing with grief to the fear of a future under climate change.

The movie begins with Mark (Kyle Allen) having already been in the time loop for some time and enjoying the godlike powers that come with knowing everything that is going to happen.  Things change when he meets Margaret (Kathryn Newton), a girl his own age who also is stuck in the time loop.  They begin spending time together and looking around their town for perfect moments of beauty which Mark documents each morning on a map (hence the title).  While Mark grows increasingly interested in finding a way to escape the temporal anomaly, Margaret is more reticent.  Mark is also interested in a romantic relationship which Margaret rebuffs.

Over the course of the movie, their are some interesting revelations and character growth I won’t spoil, but it ends up for making a very thoughtful and heartwarming film. With strong, nuanced performances by the lead actors (especially Newton), good storytelling, and editing, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a lot better than I expected and better than others have been giving it credit for.

Rating: ****