…is definitely one of the best Queens of the Stone Age albums, though the phrase also describes how things went this month quite nicely. I found myself having to write one review a day for a week. I tend to work well when given a healthy amount of pressure, so I’m glad it worked out.
Films watched in April 2021:
- The Father (Florian Zeller, 2020)
- Nomadland (Chloé Zhao, 2020)
- Judas and the Black Messiah (Shaka King, 2021)
- Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, 2019)
You know, Hollywood, when I declared 2018 a “jump the shark” moment for film distribution, that was not meant to be taken as carte blanche to become even worse about it three years later with your various streaming services. Yes, I was able to see all eight Oscar-nominated films and review them, but to put these films on different streaming services and expect users to keep up with them is unrealistic (not to mention totally inconsiderate). It’s a real shame seeing an industry regress like this because one of the very few things that films did better than video games throughout the 2010s is that they were accessible to everyone. Sure, occasionally, I’d have to drive to an obscure theater to see a film, but at least I didn’t have to register with a theater chain to see the AMC-exclusive films or something like that. And here I thought exclusives would only be a problem endemic to gaming.
Films reviewed in April 2021:
I’ve remarked in the past that the indie film scene as it is now reminds me of where the indie game scene was at the beginning of the 2010s wherein it primarily consisted of C-tier talent who sold their work mostly through egotistical posturing than artistic vision. A major reason why I didn’t really get into the indie scene until 2013 is because even then, I knew that egotistical posturing is what mid-tier artists do when they realize they’re in over their head after getting a ton of critical praise. However, one other thing I noticed about a lot of indie game projects back then is they would start off with a lot of energy only to truncate in the final act (in fact, this is observable in Cave Story, which many consider ground zero for the indie scene). I say this because the latter problem manifests in Minari.
Now, to be completely fair, I will say that of all the A24 films I have seen that didn’t get a passing grade, Minari is by far the most salvageable one. The only other film of theirs I can think of in that league would be 20th Century Women, which was decent, but jarringly broke its own framing device around the halfway point for no real reason and never really recovered after that. When an A24 film fails, it’s usually because the director tries to pack in an half an hour’s worth of material into two hours. Minari, on the other hand, falls short because it doesn’t go on long enough. It sets up a lot of interesting plot points only for the narrative to just come to a screeching halt. There is some solace in that, because it is semi-autobiographical, we know things turn out well enough for the family, but it’s still not good storytelling to make your audience resort to outside materials to make sense of things.
The Trial of the Chicago 7
I was actually surprised to learn when doing research for The Trial of the Chicago 7 that it’s only Aaron Sorkin’s second film. Mr. Sorkin was a pretty well-known figure, having written the screenplay for A Few Good Men and The Social Network among other films. His name is probably most associated with The West Wing, so to learn that he only debuted in 2017 with Molly’s Game was something I didn’t see coming. If I was aware of that, then I would’ve realized there was a chance he could’ve become a Paul Schrader type who makes for a better screenwriter than he does a director, but if The Trial of the Chicago 7 is any indication, he is just as effective in the director’s chair. It’s definitely one of the stronger efforts of the Oscar lineup, so it deserves to be watched (I know AK, being a lawperson, would get something out of it).
I don’t think I’ve ever had a four-letter work give me this much trouble when spelling it. I had to make sure not to accidentally spell “Make” or “Mark” when writing this review.
Anyway, I’ve seen quite a lot of David Fincher’s films, but I haven’t had much of a reason to actually talk about him until now. I find that David Fincher is a lot like Paul Schrader in that he is hailed as one of the all-time greats, yet I find doesn’t have a solid enough filmography to justify giving him a spot on the higher tiers as some cinephiles do. Don’t get me wrong – I have no doubt Mr. Fincher really is a talented filmmaker, but he is incredibly hit-or-miss for someone with that much experience and critical acclaim under his belt. They are slightly different in how Mr. Schrader has a very obvious weakness that manifests every time he misses the mark. He is a skilled writer, but his directorial style is very blunt and laconic; if a given project of his succeeds, it’s because he wrote such an amazing script that even subpar camerawork/direction couldn’t ruin it. Conversely, if a given project of his fails, there’s a one-to-one chance that he had an off-day when writing the script, and if so, his camerawork/direction certainly isn’t good enough to salvage things (then again, even God-tier camerawork/direction can’t salvage a bad script).
Mr. Fincher’s weaknesses, on the other hand, are a little harder to pin down. To a certain extent, he manages to be Paul Schrader’s exact opposite inasmuch that he knows his way around a camera, and can certainly get great acting performances out of his cast – an aspect that shines through even in his clunkers. However, whereas Mr. Schrader comes up with great ideas even in his worst scripts, the quality of the scripts Mr. Fincher works with tend to be all over the map. Then again, that could probably be attributed to the fact, unlike Mr. Schrader, Mr. Fincher is not a writer-director, having not written the screenplay to any of his projects thus far.
Between the David Fincher films I’ve seen, the only one I could unconditionally recommend is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. His other films tend to crumble in the face of basic logic (Se7en), have weak endings (Gone Girl and Alien 3), or have otherwise simply not aged well (Fight Club and The Social Network), although admittedly, Fight Club and The Social Network not aging well isn’t his fault. So, in other words, the reason his weaknesses are difficult to parse is because, in a stark contrast to Mr. Schrader’s body of work, when Mr. Fincher’s films fail, they tend to fail for reasons entirely unique to themselves.
In fact, Mr. Fincher is kind of like what A24 would be if A24 were a single person rather than a film studio. There is ambition to be found in all of his projects, but whether or not they actually hit the mark is a crapshoot. In this regard, Mank would be Mr. Fincher’s equivalent to Minari insomuch that between the films of his I couldn’t give straight recommendations to, Mank is the closest to being good. Mr. Fincher really captures the spirit of old-school Hollywood films to an extent I’m not even sure most directors can anymore. Sadly, just like Se7en, Mank is ultimately brought down by virtue of not having a solid foundation to it. Pauline Kael may be a sacred cow amongst film critics, but she totally dropped the ball with her “Raising Kane” essay; therefore, by tacitly taking cues from it, Mr. Fincher cheated himself out of a masterpiece. While I definitely don’t think Mank is a bad film by any means and is certainly worth a watch for cinephiles, I do have to advise anyone doing so to, as with watching any contemporary biopic, take it with a grain of salt.
Promising Young Woman
In a lot of ways, Promising Young Woman is the kind of film Hustlers tried, but failed to be. Hustlers fell apart because it was ultimately guilty of trying to have its cake and eat it. It wanted the audience to feel for its female leads, treating their drugging of their male marks as comedic until the script arbitrarily decided it wasn’t. At the end of the day, it was too bitter and angry to make a point worth considering.
I have heard the criticism that Promising Young Woman is itself sexist in that, with very few exceptions, it doesn’t portray any men in a flattering light, but I find that to call it sexist would be to call Get Out racist just because it doesn’t portray any good white people. Both are bad-faith conclusions that, at best, completely miss the point of the narratives and at worst, attempt to discredit their messages. If you hear arguments like that, don’t be led astray; Emerald Fennell’s debut is worth giving a shot. It may not have gotten the “Best Picture” award, but its “Best Original Screenplay” win speaks for itself.
While I didn’t consider The Father the best of the nominated films, I do think it is the single most inventive one, simulating the effects of dementia in such a way that the audience is just as confused as its protagonist. There’s really not much I can say that I didn’t already in either the review or the countdown. It’s worth a watch, but you might want to hold off on it if you’ve ever had a loved one go through such an experience.
With the win of Nomadland for “Best Picture”, I feel the 93rd Academy Award ceremony serves as a spiritual antithesis to the 91st ceremony. As mentioned before, the reason 2018 was such an infamously bad year for films is because the good stuff wasn’t getting attention and the stuff that was getting attention wasn’t good. It was therefore thematically appropriate that Green Book ran away with the “Best Picture” award because it officially etched 2018’s status as a bad year for films in the medium’s historical canon. Granted, I wouldn’t be surprised if this upset victory is what prompted the Academy to nominate and subsequently award the “Best Picture” award to the far more artistically daring Parasite the following year. Considering that Roma probably was the best of the films nominated in its year, it stands to reason they would give Parasite the award as a penance of sorts.
However, while Nomadland’s win was far less controversial than Green Book’s, I think both ceremonies represent rather damning trends. While Green Book represents the near-complete sterilization of mainstream films as of the late 2010s, Nomadland implies that the indie talent has no direction to speak of. Critics love the mumblecore movement for the impact it had on the medium, and but I find in practice that it caused a new wave of indie filmmakers to take solace in the fact that they no longer had to exercise their imaginations to win critical favor. Nowhere is that more obvious than when watching Nomadland. Granted, I will say it has more of a reason for existing than most mumblecore (or, in this case, mumblecore-inspired) films, and Frances McDormand can certainly carry a film by herself (unlike the lead characters of most such films), but if this is supposed to be the radical, new direction of filmmaking, then it doesn’t bode well for the medium’s future. And it can’t be a budget thing either; as deeply flawed as Upgrade was, it did prove that you can get a visually stunning, imaginative science-fiction plot out of a comparatively small budget.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s great that Chloé Zhao managed to become the first woman of color to win a “Best Director” and “Best Picture” award; I was just hoping for something with a little more oomph. If any prospective artist is reading this, here’s my advice: don’t be afraid to be awesome. Don’t place style before substance – seriously challenge the sensibilities by which art is made. I know that’s not the kind of thing critics are looking for right now, but the best artists provide critics with an experience they never knew they needed (just ask the first-wave punk rockers).
Judas and the Black Messiah
Most of the praise I have for The Trial of the Chicago 7 applies to Judas and the Black Messiah as well. In fact, the events the latter film depicts are even referenced in the former.
But yeah, if it’s one thing I have to give this lineup credit for, it’s that a lot of the films read like better versions of previous critical darlings. If Promising Young Woman is the film Hustlers tried and failed to be, then Judas and the Black Messiah is the film BlacKkKlansman tried and failed to be. Spike Lee is a good writer, but he tends to sabotage his own projects by getting excessively preachy. There’s nothing wrong with having a message, but you shouldn’t underestimate your audience, which is exactly what Mr. Lee was guilty of with BlacKkKlansman.
With Judas and the Black Messiah, on the other hand, Shaka King demonstrates that he knows what he wants to say, and says it very well without getting preachy or feeling the need to insult the audience’s intelligence. He also doesn’t do something that instantly dates his film to its release year, so he has that going for him too.
Sound of Metal
I said it before, and I’ll say it again. It really is incredible that a film made on a microbudget shot in four weeks with no more than two attempts per scene manages to walk away with far fewer execution issues than certain big-budget Hollywood productions – the makers of which had no excuse for their projects turning out badly (looking at you, Knowing). Still, having said that, the lack of resources going into Sound of Metal show in the final product, and I feel many of its flaws wouldn’t have existed if the makers were allowed a little more time to develop things. Still a good effort, and I’m hoping Darius Marder is able to use this film as a springboard for bigger and better things.
Just be warned that if you do decide to check this one out, don’t go into it expecting music to play a big role in the story; it’s pretty much there to kickstart the plot, and that’s it.
Raya and the Last Dragon Review – Disney’s live-action output may be notoriously hit-or-miss, but it appears their animated stuff still manages to be on point. Scott of the Wizard Dojo takes a look at their latest animated feature: Raya and the Last Dragon.
My Journey Through the Persona Series – The Gamer With Glasses takes a brief look at the Persona games. I’ve only played Persona 4, but it’s my favorite game of all time, so seeing the various turns the subseries has taken was fascinating.
Film Review: ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ – The fourth film in the MonsterVerse franchise, Godzilla vs. Kong (not to be confused with King Kong vs. Godzilla) was released recently, and appears to have gone over quite well with fans. Chris Evans of Geek Blogger Reviews pitches his two cents about the film.
Movie Review – Sound Of Metal – Sound of Metal was certainly not the kind of film I was expecting when I saw it as my comment on ManInBlack’s review of it can attest to. Still, it was definitely interesting reading his own take on the nominee after I actually saw it myself.
Bravely Default II Refines the Series Formula but Ultimately Delivers More of the Same – In his review, Robert Ian Shepard takes a look at Bravely Default II, the third (?!) game in the Final Fantasy spinoff series. It seems as though it sticks to the strengths of the series as a whole, starching the kind of itch the modern Final Fantasy games generally don’t.
A Grinding Pain – Hey, aren’t you glad grinding isn’t really a thing RPGs force people to do anymore? Aether is – and his trials and tribulations grinding in various role-playing games is discussed in his take on the subject.
Links to my articles:
- Minari (6.5/10)
- The Trial of the Chicago 7 (7/10)
- Mank (6/10)
- Promising Young Woman (7/10)
- The Father (7/10)
- Nomadland (5.5/10)
- Judas and the Black Messiah (7/10)
- Sound of Metal (6/10)