In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s communist party, overthrew the Cambodian government and took over the country, bringing with them four years of genocide. They forced Cambodians into work camps, massacred minority populations, and preached the benefits of communism to justify their violence. Denis Do’s animated film, Funan, tells the story of a family trying to survive and stay together in the face of this fascist regime. Its beautiful animation style and honest, yet non-exploitative, portrayals of violence create a film with raw emotional power.
The old Greeks had some of the most striking and illustrative ways of explaining the world. In their cosmos, titans, gods and men were constantly engaging in a great struggle that bore one tragedy after the next. These myths were boosted by the genius of great writers such as Homer, Hesiod and Apollonios, who captured the brutal and absorbing tales vividly on paper and thus enabled them to be preserved. It’s pretty common that Greek mythology is used as point of reference in art, which makes sense, given that it shaped Western art in more than just a few ways. It additionally poses some sort of archaic, self contained and detailed otherworld, grappling with human conflicts in a fascinating manner, even though obviously outdated.
So it isn’t completely innovative that Austrian director and screenwriter Wolfgang Fischer intentionally uses the implications of his sophomore feature’s title, Styx —the stream and deity which separates the land of the living and the land of the dead in the realm of Greek mythology —to create a subtextual tension that illustrates the film’s stakes. The film follows the journey of Rike, a middle-aged Austrian woman and doctor, who sets out on a lone journey to an island in the middle of the Atlantic and eventually encounters an overloaded and critically damaged refugee ship, whose appearance puts an end to her carefree adventure.
Let’s be honest. The main appeal of Greta is to see our girl Isabelle Huppert do what she does best: snap. Despite the film’s numerous issues, the ticket price is in fact well-worth the opportunity to bask in the unbridled power of one of the greatest working actresses viciously flipping a restaurant table over in response to getting ghosted (i.e. snap). And that’s just the beginning, baby!
The inaugural Criterion Channel pick for the first week of February was writer/director Elaine May’s 1976 Mikey and Nicky, a character-driven “Guys Bein’ Dudes” gangster drama. Taking place over the span of a single night, the film opens in classic 70s style with a shifty-eyed Nicky (auteur dreamboat John Cassavetes) alone in a hotel room, clinging to a gun and lighting a cigarette. He’s a small-time bookie who’s just stolen money from the mob, and he’s waiting for his childhood friend, Mikey (Peter Falk), to save him from a panic-induced ulcer attack.
When Mikey arrives, he holds Nicky while he sobs, then lies him down flat on his back to force-feed him an antacid. “Nick, I know you for 30 years. You call me up on that phone, you say ‘Come right away,’ in that voice, I bring Gelusil,” he says calmly before chewing one himself in solidarity. It’s a brilliant hook that establishes the best friends’ characterizations perfectly: Mikey is steady and paternal while Nicky is neurotic and vulnerable. And you just know their story is gonna end with a gut-shot.
This week’s Criterion Channel selection is Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones, a 1963 adventure-comedy set in 1700s England and executed in the style of early 1900s swashbuckler films. Whew! Born out of wedlock, the titular character (Albert Finney) grows into a charming young man and falls in love with the upper-class Sophie Western (Susannah York), whom he cannot marry because he is not of royal descent. Yup, it’s the standard formula for a period piece romance!
Only two questions were running through my mind as I watched J.K. Rowling’s new Potter Tale, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: “Who the hell is that?” and “What the hell is happening?” After two hours, I find myself still asking those exact questions. Truthfully, I was never on board with this new iteration of the Wizarding World franchise from the start. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them remains one of the biggest disappointments in my nerdy little life. It’s a movie that used the world I know and love, but deeply misunderstood why I fell in love with it in the first place. Out with the lovable, rich characters from Harry’s world and in with the stereotypical stock of Newt’s that populate a film with only scraps of world building on its mind. Unfortunately, if you are reading this, I can only inform you that no lessons have been learned since 2016.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is not just bad. It’s not even a cohesive film. There is no basic understanding of narrative form; no three-act structure, no character development, no sense of conflict, no tension, no focus, no protagonist, but more importantly— there’s no clear message. This is not a story; this is a collection of different ideas and Pottermore footnotes that Rowling has mashed together into something resembling a story. This is a vehicle in which she is able to retcon her way through the lore of her own beloved work through a series of contrivances and poor attempts at some spectacle. Worst of all, none of it makes any absolute sense. The “twists” that this film uses to shock you are lazy afterthoughts that make Rey parentage theories from Reddit seem like they were written by Charlie Kaufman.
After a tumultuous, watershed year in real-life Hollywood, BoJack Horseman has invited us back to the not-so-fictional world of Hollywoo for the show’s fifth season. Yet even as the comedy nears veteran status in the fast-paced context of streaming – and the absurdity and horror of the entertainment industry threatens to make all parody moot – BoJack manages to remain as smart, funny, and brutally poignant as ever, using inventive narrative devices to explore complex ideas and catapult the show into a stratosphere of greatness all its own.
If the first four seasons of BoJack are about the myriad ways we cope with the deep, dark shit of life, season five is about the work that comes after we survive. How do we move on from our lowest lows without digging the same holes – or falling into someone else’s – all over again? How do we forgive the unforgivable? And who does forgiveness actually benefit?