JANUARY 22 ― With streaming becoming even more ubiquitous in our lives now, to the point that almost every major Hollywood studio out there is getting in on the action with their own streaming platform, adding choices like HBO Max, Disney Plus, Paramount Plus and Peacock into an already crowded field that includes Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Shudder, MUBI and Apple TV Plus, each with their own exclusive content and unique programming angles, it’s getting harder and harder to catch up with everything nowadays.
The fact that I’m not much of a series junkie helps a bit when it comes to finding time to catch up with films that I want to see, but even when only cherry picking the series that I want to spend my valuable time on, there’s still never enough time to catch everything of note during their initial release dates.
A combination of factors like living in Malaysia, which means that theatrical releases for a huge number of films that I’d love to see (like Licorice Pizza, which has just opened in Singapore this week) are simply out of the question due to market forces, and the fact that the streaming/home video window for some titles have started to widen again (unlike during the peak of the pandemic when same day releases in movie theatres and on streaming platforms are the norm) meant there are still quite a few 2021 films that I just didn’t have the chance to see yet.
I’ve managed to catch up with a few more films in the last few weeks or so, all of them released towards the end of 2021, so here’s my take on two of them.
Say what you want about A24 as an indie/arthouse brand, but the fact that they can get a very decent amount of buzz going for their films, the kind which I don’t think Hollywood studios would even touch with a 10-foot pole any more these days, is already a huge positive for cinema culture as a whole.
C’mon C’mon, the latest film from director Mike Mills (who last did the absolutely beautiful 20th Century Women) arrives with a good enough buzz that lead actor Joaquin Phoenix might just snag another Best Actor nomination at this year’s upcoming Oscars.
From afar this will look like a nothing movie, with a stripped down nothing plot about an uncle bonding with his nephew out on the road, and a black and white look that will scream pretension to those who are more than ready to hate on a new A24 film.
But just like in Mills’ previous films, the simplicity of the plot and the film’s aesthetic choices have more reason for being than you think.
For one, the black and white cinematography here is not of the strikingly sharp kind, but more of the softer variety, with plenty of greys dominating the palette, cleverly reflecting the grey-ness of the characters’ minds and souls as they go about discovering how to relate and communicate with each other.
And that whole simple plot about a radio DJ/producer uncle, armed with an audio recorder and a microphone, going across America interviewing kids, with his nephew tagging along, also reflects how the whole movie is actually about listening, really listening, to what other people have to say.
Just like his other movies, it's a beautiful viewing experience, anchored by three extraordinary performances ― from the aforementioned Phoenix as the uncle, a startlingly remarkable Woody Norman as the nephew, and an achingly hurting Gaby Hoffmann as the nephew’s mother.
The Last Duel
With two new films released in 2021 in the USA, and the slightly later one, House Of Gucci, getting more of an Oscar buzz during this awards season, director Ridley Scott made headlines with The Last Duel when he blamed the film’s box-office failure (it took home US$30.6 million or RM128 million at the worldwide box-office on a US$100 million budget) on millennials, saying that it’s because millennials are no longer able to engage with information unless it’s delivered through a cell phone.
Maybe it was the marketing campaign, maybe it’s simply a case of wrong timing, or maybe the public is just not that interested to watch a period film set in 14th century France right now, even if it starred big names like Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Ben Affleck.
But the quality of the movie itself, for yours truly at least, is more than worth its huge budget.
It’s a Rashomon-like tale, in which the same story is told a few times over from each of the major participants’ perspectives, hence making a mockery of what "the truth" might mean to different people.
To simplify things without spoiling matters, there are three major characters ― Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) and his former friend Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) ― and it’s about the last duel ever fought in France as the two former friends fight to the death over an incident involving Marguerite.
From this setup emerges a sly critique of medieval morality, how women are valued and treated during that era and how men play with power and use it to subjugate not only women but also those lower on the class strata and without much power to call their own, all wrapped up in an entertaining package that doesn’t lack for drama, action or emotions.
It's not one of Scott’s best, but it’s still a damn worthwhile two and a half hours.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.