90 Movies in 90 Days: Arracht (2019)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, most of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Arracht (English title: Monster)
Release Date: 29 November 2019
Director: Tomás Ó Súilleabháin
Production Company: Macalla Teoranta

After enjoying The Quiet Girl, I wanted to find another film in the Irish language for St. Patrick’s Day.  This one fit the bill, and as an added bonus the director/writer has the same name as my father.

Set in Connemara, on the west coast of Ireland, the film begins in 1845 as the potato blight is spreading across the land.  Colmán Sharkey (Dónall Ó Héalaí) is a fisherman and farmer as well as a community leader.  When the English landlord raises rents, he believes he can appeal to his charity to reduce the rents.  He’s accompanied by his newly-hired farmhand, a Navy deserter named Patsy (Dara Devaney), who sabotages everything.

Two years later, the Great Hunger has decimated Ireland.  Colmán has lost everything including his will to live.  But when he finds a sick orphan girl in his farmhouse named Kitty (Saise Ní Chuinn), he nurses her to health and begins acting as a surrogate parent.  Unfortunately, incidents in the past that tie them together come back to haunt them.

This a tense drama that really seems to capture the horrors of the Great Hunger.  But more than a survival movie it is also a story of how kindness and love can persevere in the hardest of times.

Rating: ****

Note: The movie is currently streaming on Prime Video, but I had to search for it by the English title Monster to find it.

90 Movies in 90 Days: Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, most of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
Release Date: December 21, 2022
Director: Joel Crawford
Production Company: DreamWorks Animation

I was surprised by the popular acclaim of Puss in Boots: The Last Wish since it came out, because sequels of spinoffs of animated franchises generally aren’t all that good. I only became aware of the character Puss in Boots recently when I watched Shrek 2 for the first time.  My linear mind felt I would need to watch the rest of the Shrek sequels and the original Puss in Boots first, but I overcame that inclination.

And I was just fine, because Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is an excellent standalone feature and if referenced anything in earlier movies I didn’t feel like I was missing out.  Oh, and the hype is real.  This is a funny, creative, visually-imaginative, and heartfelt film which has something for the whole family (except maybe the youngest children).

The adventurer Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has lost 8 of his 9 lives and begins to fear his mortality with Death, in the form of a Wolf (Wagner Moura), literally tailing him.  He learns of a map that leads to a magical wishing star and determines to steal the map and use the wish to gain more lives.  His companions on the journey are fellow adventurer (and on-again/off-again romantic interest) Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault) and Perrito (Harvey Guillén), a kindhearted but dim Chihuahua.  They are chased by the crime family of Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears (Olivia Coleman, Ray Winstone, and Samson Kayo) who are in turn pursued by the psychotic pastry chef “Big” Jack Horner (John Mulaney).

A simple summary of the movies plot would be “the real treasure is the friends we made along the way” but that would undervalue the high quality of the characterization and storytelling.  The movie is very funny and I particularly like how Puss can code switch between being a Spanish adventurer and the behavior of real life cats.  Similarly, all of the characters have moments that reference their fairy tale/nursery rhyme origins in clever ways. The animation style is stunning and changes to enhance action and fantasy sequences.  It feels like a bold choice for the filmmakers to break from just using the same style they’ve used throughout the Shrek franchise.

So, this movie probably has no right to be as good as it is.  But it is good, and I tip my hat to everyone involved for putting their best into it.

Rating: ****

90 Movies in 90 Days: The Breadwinner (2017)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: The Breadwinnner
Release Date: November 17, 2017
Director: Nora Twomey
Production Company: Cartoon Saloon | Aircraft Pictures | Guru Studio | Jolie Pas | Melusine Productions

Cartoon Salon and director Nora Twomey (The Secret of Kells, My Father’s Dragon) bring the unique visual style used in films based on Irish folklore to a story about recent history in Afghanistan.  Set in 2001, under the rule of the Taliban, 11-year-old Parvana (Saara Chaudry) is the middle child in a poor family living in Kabul.  When her father is imprisoned the family faces starvation due to the laws that require women and girls to be escorted by a male relative any time they are in public.

With no man in the family, Parvana cuts her hair and wears the clothes of her deceased older brother Sulayman in order to make money and bring home food for the family.  Adopting the name Aatish, she meets another girl Shauzia disguised as a boy named Deliwar (Soma Bhatia) who shows her the ropes on finding jobs.  The movie has a storytelling element as well as Parvana tells an ongoing story of a boy on a quest to save his village from an evil Elephant King.  The stories are vividly animated in a style that stands apart from the more lifelike depiction of contemporary Kabul.

It’s a beautiful film that depicts a grim side of humanity but with the inspiration of Parvana’s perseverance.

Rating: ****

50 Years, 50 Movies (2022): The Quiet Girl

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously. 


Top Grossing Movies in 2022:

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners in 2022:

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 2022:

Title:  An Cailín Ciúin
Release Date: 12 May 2022
Director: Colm Bairéad
Production Company: Inscéal  | Fís Éireann / Screen Ireland | TG4 | Broadcasting Authority of Ireland

Many’s the person missed the opportunity to say nothing and lost much because of it.

The title of The Quiet Girl echoes that of The Quiet Man, the quintessential Hollywood fabrication of Ireland.  Unlike the John Wayne movie, The Quiet Girl is made in Ireland and the dialogue is primarily in the Irish language (Gaeilge). One of the interesting aspects of the movie is the code-switching the characters do between their native tongue and the English forced upon the country through imperialism.

Set in 1981, the movie tells the story of Cáit (Catherine Clinch), a nine-year-old in a large family in rural Ireland.  Cáit’s father (Michael Patric) is an alcoholic and a layabout while her mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) is overextended with caring for the children, including a toddler, and expecting another baby soon. Neglected by her parents and teased by her older siblings as “the weird one,” Cáit has no outlet but to run away and hide.

Cáit’s parents decide that until the baby is born, that she should live with her mother’s distant cousins on a farm three hours away in County Waterford.  They are strangers to Cáit, but Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) warmly welcomes her into their household with more affection than we’ve ever seen from her parents. Seán (Andrew Bennet) is reserved at first, but eventually he and Cáit form a strong bond working on the farm together.  It’s clear that Cáit is blossoming from being loved for the first time, and that Eibhlín and Seán are finding something they were missing as well.

This is a beautiful and gentle story and it uses the language of film to portray the perspective of a child, with all the wonders and horrors that entails.  I actually felt so angry early on because the way Cáit’s family treats is atrocious and inexcusable. But I felt even more emotional at the acts of kindness and love when Cáit finds her true family with Eibhlín and Seán.

Rating: ****1/2


90 Movies in 90 Days: Requiem for the American Dream (2015)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Requiem for the American Dream
Release Date: April 18, 2015
Director: Peter D. Hutchison, Kelly Nyks,  and Jared P. Scott
Production Company: PF Pictures | Naked City Films

Noam Chomsky, a professor of linguistics at MIT, is better known for being one of the more outspoken intellectuals on the left.  This documentary is built on interviews with Chomsky where he discusses the great increase of income inequality in the United States since the early 1970s.  The film is based on Chomsky’s book of the same name and in it he breaks down “The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.”  The interview sections are broken up with archival footage and animation based on the dollar bill. While I was already familiar with much of what Chomsky discusses in this film, I found his synthesis is well done and the movie serves as a good introduction to how we got to where we are now.

Rating: ****

TV Review: Derry Girls (2022)

Title: Derry Girls
Release Date: 2022
Creator and Writer: Lisa McGee
Director:  Michael Lennox
Production Company: Hat Trick Productions

The third and final series of Derry Girls is once again full of laughs at the antics of teenagers Erin, Orla, Clare, Michelle, and James.  While still very funny, I’m glad this is the final season because it’s starting to fray at the edges, and the actors are definitely getting too old to play teenagers. Although I would not be opposed to a reunion episode with the characters as adults.

This season’s hi-jinx feature the girls getting arrested for breaking into their school at night, performing as the Spice Girls, having a troubled journey to a seaside amusement park, and attending a Fatboy Slim concert. Actually, for working class kids they seem to have a lot of resources for making costumes and decorations.  Anyhow, the older generation of characters have always been fun supporting cast, so it’s appropriate that Mary and Aunt Sarah and co get a whole episode to themselves with flashbacks to when they were young and irresponsible.

The series ends with a longer episode that focuses on the Good Friday Agreement to bring peace to Northern Ireland and the choice everyone has to vote on the referendum set against Erin and Orla’s 18th birthday party.  A great end to a great show!

90 Movies in 90 Days: Old Joy

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Old Joy
Release Date: January 2006
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Production Company: Film Science | Van Hoy/Knudsen Productions | Washington Square Films

Old Joy is an early feature film written and directed by Kelly Reichardt, creator of Wendy and Lucy and First Cow. Like those later films it is a quiet character study set in the Pacific Northwest. Mark (Daniel London) and Kurt (Will Oldham) are a pair of thirtysomething men who reunite for an overnight camping trip. The movie also stars Lucy as Mark’s dog Lucy!

Mark is married and a homeowner with a full-time job and anxious about becoming a first-time father.  Kurt continues to live a freewheeling countercultural life that Mark once shared in.  The movie is a reflection on how friendships grow apart and grieves for the lost past and possibilities.  It’s a very well-made film, but be warned that it is also slow-moving.

Rating: ***

90 Movies in 90 Days: The Martha Mitchell Effect (2022)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: The Martha Mitchell Effect
Release Date: June 17, 2022
Director: Anne Alvergue and Debra McClutchy
Production Company: Foothill Productions

This short and straightforward documentary that’s made exclusively of archival film and sound recordings, focuses on an element of the Watergate scandal that is overlooked by history. Martha Mitchell was the wife of John Mitchell, attorney general during Richard Nixon’s first term until 1972 when he took on leading the Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP).  Martha defied the expectations of the demur Washington wife and was often outspoken about issues political and personal which made her a minor celebrity on talk shows.

When the Watergate scandal breaks, John has Martha brutally imprisoned in a California hotel.  The Nixon administration then starts a gaslighting campaign that Martha is mentally ill in order to silence her.  But she continues speaking out on the scandal, at first to protect her husband who she thinks is innocent (he wasn’t) and then to try to expose and end corruption in government.  If you have 40 minutes to sit and watch this film it will be well-spent learning about this overlooked historical figure.

Rating: ***

90 Movies in 90 Days: Son of the White Mare (1981)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Son of the White Mare
Release Date: 22 October 1981
Director: Marcell Jankovics
Production Company: PannóniaFilm

Son of the White Mare is a visually-stunning animated adaptation of ancient Hungarian folklore.  The White Mare actually has three sons, all humanoid with super powers.  The youngest and strongest is Treeshaker who teams up with his brothers Stonecrumbler and Irontemperer to find the entrance to the Underworld where three princesses have been kidnapped by three dragons.  The film is episodic, typically with the older brothers failing a quest, and then Treeshaker succeeding, and battles against new and bigger villains that anticipates video game structure.

What sets this movie apart is the bold colors and symmetrical design of the animation that feels like Mary Blair and Lisa Frank went to an acid test.  For viewers interested in literary symbolism, Treeshaker and his brothers represent masculine archetypes in a world that seems to be filled with representations of women’s genitatlia. This feels like the type of movie that was screened at midnight movies for generations of college students on hallucinogens, along with Fantastic Planet and Heavy Metal.  Turns out that it was only released in the US in 2020.  Even at 86 minutes, it feels like it goes on too long, but it’s definitely worth a watch.

Rating: ***1/2

50 Years, 50 Movies (1994): The Secret of Roan Inish

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously.



Top Grossing Movies of 1994:

  1. The Lion King
  2. Forrest Gump
  3. True Lies
  4. The Mask
  5. Speed

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners of 1994:

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 1994:

Title: The Secret of Roan Inish
Release Date: September 12, 1994
Director: John Sayles
Production Company:  Jones Entertainment Group | Skerry Productions

In the late 1940s, 10-year-old Fiona (Jeni Courtney) is sent from the city where her father and brother work in factories, to live with her grandparents (Eileen Colgan and Mick Lally) and cousin Eamon (Richard Sheridan) in a village on the coast of Donegal.  When Fiona was younger her whole family lived on the offshore island of Roan Inish until they were forced to leave during World War II.  During the evacuation, Fiona’s infant brother Jamie was lost, floating to see in a boat-shaped cradle, a family heirloom.  Fiona hears stories of her family including the legend that an ancestor married a selkie, a magical being that can transform from seal to human.  She begins to believe that Jamie is still alive and cared for by the seals around Roan Inish.

This gentle coming-of-age family film is a beautiful story of storytelling and how stories hold us together.  It’s also beautifully filmed, capturing the natural beauty of Ireland.  Courtney is solid as the curious and confident Fiona, although she only has a couple of other acting credits.  I also feel like John Sayles should get discussed more among the directors who came of age in the 80s and 90s, because he’s made some excellent films.  I feel bad for sleeping on this movie for almost 30 years, but now I can say it’s among my all-time favorites. This movie would pair well with another one of my favorites, Song of the Sea.

Rating: ****1/2