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Turning Red 👍

Bao meets The Mitchells… to produce something less artistic then either, but at least fun to watch. Mid-March release sounds about right.

The French Dispatch 👍

The Wes Andersoniest of all Wes Anderson movies, at least the live action ones. Every frame is a painting here, or a New Yorker front page, and in that regard this is also his most artful work. But The Grand Budapest Hotel is still a better movie.

One last thing about Don’t Look Up

After two failed attempts to explain why exactly I wasn’t thrilled with Adam McKay’s Netflix movie — brevity will only get you so far — I found this review by Scott Alexander to perfectly capture my doubts about the movie’s message. I agree with Alexander only about 60% of the time, but I can agree with 100% of his review.

Encanto 👍

An unexpected diversion that is all heart and no plot — not the most terrible thing in the world, but far from the year’s best animated movie.

Don’t Look Up 👎

Netflix has a corrupting influence on film makers. Could it be that good art needs constraints?

Witness Don’t Look Up: a two and a half hour movie in which everything is at stake yet nothing happens. As a government farce, it is worse than Burn After Reading; as a disaster movie, it is worse than even Armageddon; and it is much, much worse than Dr. Strangelove by any criteria.

If it was meant to portray our response to Covid it did a terrible job, painting science as all-knowing and the political-buisness cabal as less coherent than your average B-grade movie villain. Spolier alert: (almost) everyone dies at the end, and you (mostly) won’t care.

Good soundtrack, though.

Dune (2021) 👍

The 1984 version showed that making a good movie out of a 700-page tome is a complex problem that can’t be solved in 2 hours 17 minutes on a $40M budget. It took 20 minutes and $50M more than that for Denis Villeneuve to cover just half of what Lynch attempted, but the end result is so much better. The story is what it is — between the book, the movie, the TV show, and the game I now know it by heart — but the casting, the pace, cinematography, score, the movieness of it, are all pitch perfect. A cross between Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars, noted our perceptive nine-year-old somewhere around the 30-minute mark. Yes, and more like this, please!

Viewing notes: we saw it on a 120” screen with a 5.1 surround system. If you have anything less at home I’d strongly recommend going to a movie theater. Yes, it’s nice that it is available for streaming on day 1, but you would be doing a disservice both to the movie and to yourself seeing it on a postage stamp. \</privilege>


A few notches below Little Miss Sunshine, a movie of a similar sensibilities. Some changes might have improved it — e.g. why does Ruby end up at high-school choir practice because of a boy, and not because of her love of singing? — but none of it can correct the one huge flaw, which is that conflict between Ruby’s supporting her family by providing free ASL interpreter services and Ruby’s becoming a strong independent young woman is a zero-sum game which will end up in either financial hardship or broken dreams.

But, you know, the music was nice.

The White Lotus 👍

Two parts lifestyle porn one part sociologic study of intergenerational struggle, with a smidgen of mystery to whet your appetite and make you think there is more there there than it actually is, though what is there is still pretty good if not exactly a Knives Out caliber of crime comedy.1

But oh my that soundtrack.

  1. And it is here that I realize I never wrote about Knives Out, which would have been the movie of the year had it not come out in 2019, a good year for movies in an otherwise mediocre decade. So here is my review: it is outstanding, go see it (👍). 

The Mitchells vs. The Machines 👍

Spider-verse meets Gravity falls, resulting in a completely unexpected delight that really is fun for the whole family. The animation is beautiful, the pace is fast, the humor earnest and often physical, and the story intentionally misses every opportunity for cynicism. The photogenic family next door with the perfect vacation photos really is that high-functioning, fit and smart.1 Friends are there to support you, not tease you. The world doesn’t make fun of weirdness, it embraces it.

So, even though it premiered on Netflix, this is not your ordinary Netflix feature-length animation; it is actually good. It is also a triumph of believable character motivation and well-executed action sequences over a coherent plot. Thankfully, humans put much more weight on the former.

  1. Some Eastern European cynicism is in order, though: given that these characters are voiced by John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, making them inauthentic frauds was never an option. 

Interstellar (2014) 👍

Interstellar is many things: a mediocre sci-fi story, a timely study of sociopathy, a schmaltzy meandering about love conquering space and time, an excellent showcase of near-future space engineering, and, sadly, a big budget Hollywood movie that grossly underestimates its audience. Foreshadowing is one thing, having one astronaut do the punch-a-hole-though-a-folded-piece-of-paper schtick to another while they are in space on their way to a wormhole as part of a billion dollar secret mission… Well, that’s a whole new level of cringe.1

Hollywood rears its head in many other places, most of all the needless addition of superficial suspense to things that don’t need added suspense. Because a father communicating with his estranged daughter through spacetime is not emotional enough, let’s also add a hick brother who doesn’t want her at the only place where communication is possible, and may kick her out at any moment. Decades are spent on trying to get humans off Earth, yet the big scientific breakthrough comes at the very last moments, as people are suffocating on the ground. While we are there: if the human civilization is capable of building a county-sized space habitat and the only problem is getting the thing off the ground, why not build it on Earth or under the sea, instead of using a few hundred frozen embryos as humanity’s only backup plan? But let’s not get into plot holes because, um, there are a few.

Which is to say that Interstellar is not an overwhelmingly good movie. The good, however, still outweighs the bad, especially for those willing to forgive all the pandering. The best of humanity is also the worst of it, and the best of American sci-fi in matters of technology also turns out to be some of the worst story-wise. So it goes…

  1. I have yet to see Tenet but from what I have heard about its convoluted and unknowable plot, it is Christopher Nolan’s reactive formation to the many comments about oversimplifying and over-explaining that followed Interstellar. For an ever better example of a reactive formation see La La Land as Damien Chazelle’s response to Birdman winning the best movie Oscar over Whiplash and giving the Academy what it wants: more cotton candy navel-gazing. Ironic that the attempt also failed to win, this time to a better opponent

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