Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies! A little of this, a little of that, and one rant.
The Last Duel (2021)
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Comer, Adam Driver, Harriet Walter, Ben Affeck, Alex Lawther
Director: Ridley Scott
Genres: action, drama
Synopsis: Set in the time of young (18!) King Charles the VI of France (Lawther,) Sir Jean de Carouges (Damon,) a Knight who is loyal and often masterfully killing on the battlefield, yet who is not one of the favorites of the regional Lord Pierre d’Alencon (Affleck,) comes home from one of his battles and lengthy absences to hear his wife, Marguerite (Comer,) tell him that she has been raped by Jacques Le Gris (Driver,) a dandy and a favored carousing cohort of d’Alencon. Marguerite, Le Gris, and de Carouges each give their own account of the deed to King Charles, and it is up to him to decide how to proceed. He rules that a duel will be held, and the stakes are high.
Impressions: There is so much more going on in this film than the synopsis describes. It’s all about relationships, be they at a country-country level, court vs. ruled level, partner-partner level, man-woman level, cultural practices of the time and how they affect individuals and groups, how the church and the king interacted. The acting is superior by all parties, and some of the actors in it are seen out of their usual roles (i.e. Damon as the hard-fighting, non-smiling Carouges; Affleck as the flippant, malicious d’Alencon, and Lawther as the King in command of all) but it works well. The battle scenes are well-choreographed and up close. The duel is a marvel of cinematography. Comer as Marguerite couldn’t have been better chosen for her role. She is a relative newcomer to the big screen but she plays it like she’s been there forever.
Etc.: warning: disturbing act of sexual assault; from imdb:
One of 2021’s most notorious flops, this only earned $9 million on its opening weekend against a budget in excess of $100 million. Ridley Scott took issue with this in later interviews, citing modern audiences’ lack of interest in intellectual films over comic-book movies. The fact that the film was developed largely for older audiences – the type who typically stay away from cinemas during the height of a pandemic – was probably a mitigating factor in the film’s under-performance.
Awards: 2 wins and 32 nominations
Rant: In the 119 weekly installments of Movies, Movies, Movies! this is the first time I’m going on a rant. The Last Duel deserved not one or two but many Academy Award nods, but has been blatantly ignored, where another film with child exploitation is nominated multiple times and glorified. Why is it so?
The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021)
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio, Mark Wystrach
Director: Michael Showalter
Genres: biography, drama
Synopsis: The story begins when Jim Bakker (Garfield) and Tammy Faye Grover (Chastain) are young and strongly called to preach for the lord. The chemistry is strong between them and each sees each other through ambition’s utilitarian eyes. The two get married and live with Tammy’s parents but it isn’t long before they are on the road and making a name for themselves on the evangelist circuit. They wrangle themselves a spot on Pat Robertson’s TV channel with puppets and a kids show, but they begin to rise quickly until they are far and away the hottest show on the network. Gifts start pouring in and their lifestyles become opulent. Their meteoric rise cannot withstand the heat of reality.
Impressions: I thought the movie was fairly decent but rehashing the sordid details of the rise and subsequent scandal and fall rang hollow to me. There seemed to be a bias in Tammy Faye’s favor, where she was depicted as a gullible, clueless victim. I didn’t buy it, which left nobody in this movie for me to connect with in an empathetic or sympathetic way. I did like Cherry Jones acting as Rachel, Tammy Faye’s mother. Even she elicited no sympathy as she had spent most of the movie being cold-hearted and critical of her daughter. Even the reviling of money-grubbing televangelists liberally shown throughout the film rang hollow.
Etc.: from imdb:
Jessica Chastain notes there’s one misconception about Tammy Faye Bakker that the film portrays correctly: parodies and impressions of Tammy Faye, particularly on Saturday Night Live (1975) and late-night talk shows, featured her crying with heavily running mascara. Chastain noted that when researching Tammy Faye she couldn’t find a single image of her with running mascara (because she only wore waterproof.)
Awards: 10 wins and 43 nominations
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Starring:Ryan Gosling, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Genres: sci-fi, action, drama
Synopsis: The story opens where the next generation of blade runners, who have been upgraded not to be troublesome like the Nexus models of old, are still hunting those old models down and “retiring” them. K (Gosling) finds compelling evidence at the scene of the retirement of Nexus model Sapper Morton (Bautista) that forms questions that generate a huge amount of interest from K’s Lieutenant Joshi (Wright) as well as Niander Wallace (Leto) the ultra-powerful CEO of the corporation that took over from the Terrell Corporation in the original Blade Runner movie. One wants to quash the information and the other wants to resolve and possibly exploit it. It’s up to K to solve the mystery and stay alive in the process.
Impressions: I’ve been a fan of Blade Runner forever and watched this when it first came out with more than a little trepidation, as I felt there was no way a sequel could match to excellence of the original and didn’t want to sully the memory of it. Further, the Great Ridley Scott was not directing this one. It didn’t take me long to see that the story was in the very capable hands of Denis Villeneuve. There is a special features section on my blu ray disc that talks about how the special effects were put together the old fashioned way, not with CGI. It makes all of the difference in elevating this film from wonderful to superior. If you liked the original Blade Runner but haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049, what are you waiting for!
Etc.: filmed in 11 locations in Hungary, Spain, Iceland, Mexico, and the US; they originally wanted David Bowie to play Niander Wallace, but he passed away before shooting began; from imdb, which has 180 bits of trivia on the movie:
Director Denis Villeneuve noted that he was fully aware of the immense pressure he was under, and how hardcore fans of Blade Runner (1982) view the prospect of a new movie: “I know that every single fan will walk into the theater with a baseball bat. I’m aware of that and I respect that, and it’s okay with me because it’s art. Art is risk, and I have to take risks. It’s gonna be the biggest risk of my life but I’m okay with that. For me it’s very exciting. It’s just so inspiring, I’m so inspired. I’ve been dreaming to do sci-fi since I was ten years old, and I said ‘no’ to a lot of sequels. I couldn’t say ‘no’ to [this film]. I love it too much, so I said, ‘Alright, I will do it and give everything I have to make it great’.”
Awards: 101 wins and 165 nominations
Joe Bell (2020) original title, “Good Joe Bell”
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Reid Miller, Connie Britton, Maxwell Jenkins, Gary Sinise
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Genres: biography, drama
Synopsis: from imdb:
The true story of a small town, working class father who embarks on a solo walk across the U.S. to crusade against bullying after his son is tormented in high school for being gay.
Impressions: I wanted to like this movie, I really did, as I think that the story it tells is important. There is way too much bullying going on in schools, where anyone deemed to be “different” or discerned to be shy or sensitive make easy targets for bullies. It’s twice as easy when school personnel decide against holding bullies accountable or discount the complaints of students and/or their parents. Many children suffer silently because they feel they won’t be heard or they will suffer retaliation if they speak out. This film is successful in showing all of the above. It just doesn’t come together very well.
Etc.: LGBTQIA+ themed
Playing Frisbee in North Korea (2018)
Starring: (as narrator) Savanna Washington
Director: Savanna Washington
Synopsis: filmed with candid footage as well as staged footage of a tour the film maker took of North Korea, showing a reality that few westerners have been allowed to see, including the stark high rise apartments in cities, the rubble of the roads and the work crews that spend their days sweeping it up to stay busy; there are also plentiful archival photos and video footage and multiple interviews with individuals very familiar with the history of the country and how it has come to be what it is today.
Impressions: I did not watch the whole documentary. It was depressing to see what totalitarian brainwashing has done to the population, to a point where few living have any memory of a different way of living and are severely restricted from learning anything outside of their borders. The propaganda purveyors lead the tour around the country and showed all of the fancy monuments to the leaders and relate their mythical deeds as if they were gods, despite the meager lives that the population is forced to live. It was too much to bear watching any more of.