• Five Shaolin Masters

    Five Shaolin Masters

    ★★★½

    Five Shaolin Masters is all action. It goes from fight to fight to fight, then takes a brief pitstop for an extended training montage, and then we get the big climax. All of these scenes are pretty great, don't get me wrong, but it does feel like we miss out on any character development for most of the main characters. After his very charismatic supporting performance in The Boxer from Shantung, I came into the movie pre-disposed to care about…

  • The Hero

    The Hero

    ★★★★

    The forty-third film from the 2021 Criterion Challenge (#36: Made in India)

    This movie really sings when it is about the intersecting lives of a dozen or so passengers on a train bound for Delhi. That is most of the runtime, though there is a period in the middle that consists of the main character, a famous actor (Uttam Kumar), telling another passenger about his past through a series of flashbacks, that slows things down. Overall though the movie is incredibly humanistic, as is characteristic of Satyajit Ray. I haven't disliked a Ray film yet.

  • Soleil Ô

    Soleil Ô

    ★★★★

    The forty-second film from the 2021 Criterion Challenge (#15: 1970s)

    Soleil Ô premiered in Mauritania in 1967, but was not screened in the wider world until 1970. Even then it seems to have been relatively obscure, though a recent restoration and re-release through Criterion have made it more widely available. It is a very striking treatise on both the racial injustice and the class disparity experienced by African immigrants in France (and how they feed off of and exacerbate one…

  • The Souvenir: Part II

    The Souvenir: Part II

    ★★★★

    I was pretty tepid on The Souvenir, but I found The Souvenir: Part II to be a really lovely work. Picking up immediately after the end of the previous movie, filmmaker Joanna Hogg uses this sequel as an opportunity to make a film about grief, about making a film while grieving, and about using the filmmaking process itself ato grieve. It is layered and intricate, culminating in a really beautiful ballet that shows how cinema has kind of saved Julie…

  • The Furies

    The Furies

    ★★★½

    The forty-first film from the 2021 Criterion Challenge (#33: Western)

    Barbara Stanwyck is always a force to be reckoned with. We kinda picked Anthony Mann's The Furies out of a hat for the Western category. It's not exactly what I would have expected from the genre, focusing heavily on family drama, though it does feature many of the tropes; there is a good shootout and some horse-riding out on these plains. The main attraction here is watching Stanwyck and Walter Huston play off of one another. They are both so damn good.

  • The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

    The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

    ★★

    The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is a bit of an improvement on the second movie; there are some fun sight gags throughout and enjoyable performances moments mixed in from Alan Arkin, Ann-Margaret, Judge Reinhold, and Martin Short as Clifford-but-cold.

  • The Tragedy of Macbeth

    The Tragedy of Macbeth

    ★★★★½

    Perhaps the best-looking movie of 2021. The performances don't quite live up to the visuals, but that's more because the imagery is so incredible than it is an indictment of any of the actors. Washington gets to show off both of his modes, McDormand is pretty dialed in, and Alex Hassell really shines as the enigmatic and eerie Thane of Ross, an amalgamation of multiple characters from Shakespeare's text.

  • Summer Wars

    Summer Wars

    ★★★½

    I decided to rewatch Summer Wars after seeing Belle. The obvious virtual world similarities aside, the two movies couldn't be more different. Summer Wars's vision of digital spaces is far more cautious and pessimistic, to say nothing of how action-oriented it is. Between Belle and Mirai, it seems like Hosoda is becoming a more emotion-driven filmmaker. This is not to say there aren't emotions in Summer Wars, but they feel less propulsive; this is more of a fun romp with some very specific set dressing.

  • Parallel Mothers

    Parallel Mothers

    ★★★★

    Parallel Mothers briefly takes a turn into a psycho-sexual thriller in act two and it's cool to see Almodóvar working in that mode again as it's been a while. The movie really breathes at the beginning - you don't quite understand what's going on until 20-30 minutes in - but everything that comes before still feels of a purpose. Almodóvar is establishing the importance of family and the intergenerational burdens that can be placed on the unit as a result…

  • The Ward

    The Ward

    ★½

    There's nothing in The Ward that makes it feel like a John Carpenter movie. It looks more like a real movie than Ghosts of Mars does, but it trades off any semblance of personality. It has a fun performance from Mamie Gummer though, which isn't something you say very often. It must be hard being Mamie Gummer - you'll always be compared to your mother in a way that stunts your career, but you probably wouldn't have that career at all otherwise. Anyway, that's what I was thinking about through most of this movie.

  • Daisies

    Daisies

    ★★★

    The fortieth film from the 2021 Criterion Challenge (#24: Any film on The Criterion Channel)

    Daisies has been on my to-watch list for years, but I found myself completely unprepared for it. A surreal clowning-cum-sketch comedy that might fit alongside the likes of Dumb and Dumber or The Brothers Solomon if the main characters (played by Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová) were less self-aware. The movie follows these two bored young women as they find ways to dramatically assert their…

  • The Boxer from Shantung

    The Boxer from Shantung

    ★★★★

    The main character in The Boxer from Shantung, Ma Yongzhen (Chen Kuan-tai), is not a hero. Certainly not in the decent and noble mold filled by characters such as Chao Chih-Hao (Lo Lieh) in King Boxer. It almost seems as though Ma is actively rebelling against being the honorable center of the movie; he is prideful, abrasive, and sometimes even cruel. The movie ostensibly puts a love interest in his path (Ching Li as Jin Lingzi), but any possibility of…