Women in Film: Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Old Guard, Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey, and Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Sidney Flanagan in Never Rarely Sometimes Always [image from Amazon]

Hello again, and thank you for reading me. Given the dramatic rise of women in film — be it on the director’s chair, as producers, documentarians — I’m going to start a little something called Women in Film, and it’s going to spotlight women who have made or are currently making contributions to the art of film making in positions behind the camera. Considering how the Academy consistently fails to include them even now in prominent categories (where were Lulu Wang and Greta Gerwig in last year’s Oscars? Oh, right, they weren’t) and the fact that ten, fifteen, twenty years ago you had to really scavenge through piles of videos and theatrical offerings to find anyone female (aside from the few prominent ones — Claire Denis, Kathryn Bigelow, Jodie Foster, Agnes Vardá, and Chantal Akerman, to name a quick few off the top of my head, I think it’s time to create a running theme that will focus on women.

Those of you who know cinema will agree that since the dawn of cinema as an alternative hobby in the 19th Century, which soon evolved into larger, longer forms that eventually became the Silent Film, women have been present as directors, screenwriters, and producers in their own right, and only because a group of men decided to put the lid on this did we, after Dorothy Arzner, not see a prominent woman director until Ida Lupino came along and brought her gritty noir classic The Hitcher. It’s a shame, because when you come across some of the movies directed or written by women you will notice that it is they who can create the most memorable narratives I have seen.

Below, I will review two superhero movies and one indie drama, all directed by women, with strong female leads as players.

Superhero Movies

One of the reasons I never review superhero movies is because they’re frankly, un-cinematic, and represent the worst of movie-making. It’s pretty stupid to think that stories like these have any worth other than perpetuating a comic-book mentality. I just can’t walk into a movie theater, or now in the days of Covid-19, hit click on a title, and expect to see a coherent, intelligent narrative that doesn’t devolve into a CGI atrocity complete with the now ubiquitous use of martial arts as the one form of conflict resolution. I just don’t know what to make of these films. Maybe I’m not with the times, but frankly, I’ve never cared for canned entertainment.

Now, this opening paragraph might sound like I truly hate superhero movies down to the last one. I don’t: Patty Jenkins’ epic king tut essay https://www.mitforumcambridge.org/multiple/free-scholarship-essays/2/ go here where to buy cialis "with out" a doctor in douglasville ga https://naturalpath.net/natural-news/acheter-du-viagra-sans-ordonnance-en-france/100/ essay on memories of my school life go here watch click here how long does viagra last for here review on buying kamagra oral jelly describe the world you come from sample essay https://www.texaskidneycare.com/takecare/cheap-orlistat-singapore/120/ useful english phrases for essay writing sildenafil (viagra) vardenafil (levitra) and tadalafil (cialis) thesis opportunities sexual harassment essay designer baby essay https://eagfwc.org/men/buy-cipla-viagra/100/ easyjet refund viagra wholesale canada how do i change keyboards on my ipad essay writer funny definitions essay topics go to site https://www.mitforumcambridge.org/multiple/religion-in-school-essay/2/ http://v-nep.org/classroom/review-my-essay-for-free/04/ https://medpsychmd.com/nurse/canadian-pharmacy-24h-for-orlistat/63/ conseils achat viagra thesis correction online prezzo viagra generico doc Wonder Woman, for example, announced that women can also create complex universes with elaborate set pieces, direct complicated battle sequences, and include topics of sisterhood, altruism, and especially, a hero’s journey all in one –, at times better than men. Someone who would fit that niche nicely is Claire Denis, for example. Had she been brought in to direct Joker, I can guarantee it would have been even darker and more twisted still and managed to deliver one of the most complex supervillain origin stories ever. It would have been memorable. But… c’est la vie, and I digress.

The Old Guard. Image from Netflix.

The Old Guard

The Old Guard is based on the graphic novel of the same name and its DC comic origins can’t be ignored as its writer, Greg Rucka, is also a comic-book writer. Stepping away from the convoluted storylines present within every superhero biography, he presents a small group of renegades led by Andy/Andromache (a muted Charlize Theron, again sporting what seems to be a trademark asymmetrical haircut). This group has been on the fringe of society for as long as they know; Andy herself may as well be over 6,000 years old and at one time was a goddess worshipped by the Greeks who then traveled, alone, around the world only to meet Quynh (Veronica Ngo), another immortal like herself, who suffered a cruel fate and whose whereabouts are unknown at the moment.

Accompanying Andy are Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), the terribly named Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). The latter two are former soldiers who fought each other on enemy lines ages ago and quite frankly, met cute in a time when there were no labels, and have since been together and thus becoming the planet’s first gay superhero couple.

The plot, however, doesn’t yet concern this group (other than introducing them), but instead, focuses its attention on a young African American soldier, Nile (Kiki Layne), who gets mortally wounded in Afghanistan. When Nile not only fails to die but also recovers miraculously, she starts experiencing vivid dreams in which she sees the aforementioned band of renegades, who also happen to be dreaming about her. Andy, clearly the band’s leader, decides they must seek Nile out and recruit her.

What these immortals don’t know is that they’re about to get sold down the river by an unscrupulous individual named Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who has long been observing them pop up in all kinds of historical news items dating back millennia (and how he was able to come into contact with so much of this information is debatable, but in true comic-book sense, no one is really counting).

Copley wants to trade the immortals in to study their powers of regeneration so he can do some good himself for humanity after experiencing the tragic loss of his wife. The problem is, who he is dealing with has ulterior motives and usually, in narratives such as these, this involves a megalomaniac villain (here portrayed by Harry Melling with insane gusto; he does a sadistic coward beautifully) with unlimited access to all sorts of things.

The Old Guard takes a somewhat meandering pace during its own early run time, and that in a way is pretty effective in keeping the story itself moving forward but also taking some asides. One large chunk of the movie involves Andy as she tracks down a very resistant Nile who fears she may be dishonorably discharged from the military. Theron and Layne operate well in both their verbal spats and their balletic fights; Layne is particularly a potent foil to Theron’s world-weary unwilling heroine. Once Nile is incorporated into the band of renegades she finds out that being an immortal comes at a heavy price: she will outlive everyone she loves. A scene with Layne and Schoenaerts feels reminiscent of some of the more poignant scenes of Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire as seen and experienced by Brad Pitt’s doomed character.

Something I noticed, and perhaps this is unintentional but I’ll throw it in for good measure. There is a running concept that your work during an incarnation is not done until it is done for good. Because these immortals have been “standing up to what is wrong” all their lives, it seems that they have been offered a heavy task or series of tasks to balance out karmic debts.

However, I don’t want to go into too much New Age blathering. While not memorable by any means — I had trouble connecting with The Old Guard once it was done and it will not surprise me, from the final scene, that there will be a sequel — Gina Prince-Bythewood’s movie is a solid piece of good old fashioned entertainment featuring a multi-cultural cast complete with high-caliber performances that elevate a silly, and frankly, overdone origin story into pure fun. Cinematically, it’s a bit flat and often seems to be a work for hire, but who cares? Had this been released in movie theaters it would have struck gold at the box office for sure.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Someone must have seen Cathy Yan’s debut feature film Dead Pigs at Sundance or AFI (the only venues where her movie has played) in 2018 and been impressed enough to warrant giving her the helm at directing the female-centric superhero movie Birds of Prey, the spin-off to Suicide Squad, and it shows. Now, I have not seen Dead Pigs and am awaiting either the Film Society of Lincoln Center or some art-house distributor to release it online, so I don’t have any platform on where to judge Yan’s first movie and how it correlates to her sophomore feature. What I can say, and I will keep it short only for reasons that again, this is a superhero movie and I don’t want to impose a War and Peace type article because I have yet another movie to review, Cathy Yan is an electric director with her hand on fast narrative, razor-sharp humor, and a lead performance by Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn who gleefully embodies the energy of a psychopathic Tazmanian devil with so much abandon you can practically feel her sinking her teeth in what seems to be a massive pile of rich velvet cake. With a script penned by Christina Hodson (who also penned the derivative Shut In and can be forgiven for it), Birds of Prey is supremely fast-paced, offers equal opportunity for its group of female actresses (Rosie Perez, Mary-Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Allie Wong, and Ella Jay Basco) to shine and burn a path of mayhem on their own as they ferociously assert their own brand of girl power. If the producers and whatnot can keep these two on board for what will be a necessary sequel come 2022, I’ll be easily sold into watching it.

Sidney Flanagan and Talia Ryder in Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

Never Rarely Sometime Always

Here we have one of the best movies of the year so far, if not the best. Eliza Hittman’s poignant, observational Sundance breakout hit Never Rarely Sometimes Always, should you see it, will haunt you for a long time after the credits roll.

The movie stars newcomer Sidney Flanagan in a role I am sure will garner her numerous praise and award nominations within the independent crowd (and of course will be ignored by the Academy as this is not their cup of tea, wasn’t made with pomp and circumstance in mind, and is frankly, too left of commercial to be widely accepted). Flanagan plays Autumn Callahan, a 17-year old from a small town, Pennsylvania, who discovers she is pregnant, But before we get there, we are introduced not to her situation, but what may have led to it, and thus, the film’s remarkably astute title.

Following some high-school performers singing 1950s tunes — all boys, mind you — Autumn enters the stage, guitar at hand. Listen to the song she is singing; it in itself drives the entire plot and it’s all you need to know to appreciate what she is going through, Mid-way through, a boy cat-calls her from the audience, calling her “Slut!” [Incredibly, no one bats an eye; no one intervenes to call him out, which is the film’s first exclamation point that points out how men even at a young age get away with atrocious behavior that will, of course, lead to more troublesome behavior along the way.]

Undeterred, Autumn lashes back, singing as if this is all she has. She will later get back at the boy, but for now, she has more issues that are starting to take form. In a move that defines just how innocent she is about practically life in itself, Autumn goes to a clinic to get a pregnancy test. She gets the test done and realizes she could have simply bought it at a local CVS Pharmacy. When the test comes back positive, almost immediately the kind doctor handling her case makes a point that Autumn should not have an abortion but should instead put it up for adoption.

However, for Autumn, who lives home with her distant mother and unsympathetic father, this is not an option. Her perceptive older cousin Skylar (and excellent Talia Ryder) reaches out and in a wordless montage realizes that Autumn is indeed in trouble. Without any hesitation, the two young women make an unplanned trip to New York to have an abortion, come back, and resume their lives with a secret only the two of them will share.

Imager from No Film School

Eliza Hittman’s movie is a masterpiece of narration because it never gives the girls an easy way out. We who travel take for granted that big cities with mass transit, for example, offer perks for visitors like a one-day subway pass. Such minor detail is essential for the story because neither girls know this bit, and with the money that they’ve stolen from the pharmacy, which they have erroneously thought should be enough to carry them through an extremely expensive city like New York, they begin to use it for the simplest things like buying subway tickets.

This, and many other details, make even the slightest wrong turn, crucial for Autumn and Skylar who simply want to get through a quick appointment and return to their small Pennsylvania town and forget this ever happened. When the first clinic they go to, located in the middle of Brooklyn, informs Autumn that due to the advanced stages of her pregnancy she will have to go to the clinic’s Manhattan location for assistance, she is dismayed but makes the best of it. Because you cannot stay overnight at Port Authority, they elect to ride the D train all through the night. [Again, it is important to signal that these aren’t savvy travelers; they could have stayed at Penn Station, for example, with no problem at all, but then we wouldn’t have the story we have now.]

The situation gets only worse for the girls — but mainly for Autumn — when she then gets the unwelcome news from a kind female counselor that her procedure will take two days. The counselor offers help via a shelter, but Autumn, who plays her emotions as close to her chest as she can until she reveals them in the most heartbreaking manner possible — and that is a gut-wrenching scene that threatens to swallow the movie whole–, chooses again to spend it with Skylar wandering about the city, traveling the subway until the following day, where they meet a boy (Thèodore Pellerin) who will help them financially… for a price.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is an emotionally shattering little movie that must be seen to understand the plight of teen mothers — and women in general. It is in its own way a cry against the way women get treated by men — even young men — and the society that while seeming to want to do the best by them, often fails. Practically all the men in the movie are seen at some level of hostile to the two girls — ranging from a lecherous boss to an uncaring information agent to a lewd subway rider. Now, note that it is not a movie that hates men per se — but when you think that in many states abortions are illegal and women are still unprotected against the abuses of men, then you will totally understand the theme of Hittman’s powerful story.

Watch it and discover a strong director in Eliza Hittman who pulls back no punches and while remaining on the side of restraint, she actually intensifies the power of the female voice that never gets heard or told except in the shadows. I promise you this movie will linger Sith you for a while as it did with me.

German Cinema: Fassbinder and Herzog

Kurt Raab in Why Does Heer R. Run Amok? (Image by MUBI)

Courtesy of MUBI and Criterion Channel, here are two German movies you can stream from the comfort of your own home:

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?

It’s safe to say that Fassbinder will never be a walk in the park when sitting down to watch his work. It’s been a while since I saw any of his work and almost 15 years since I last saw Water Drops on Burning Rocks, which was directed by François Ozon, based on a play written by Fassbinder. I can’t say that the viewing was comfortable, but again, I don’t always go to the movies to see an easy film and in that respect, Fassbinder is the master of difficult cinema. His 1970 movie Why Does Herr FR. Run Amok? could be interpreted today as the Angry White Man’s Rage. During its slim run — the movie proper is only 84 minutes long from start to finish, we become privy to the unremarkable (and ultimately tragic) life of a man only known as Herr R. (Kurt Raab). Raab works as a draughtsman for a design firm. Nothing in Raab’s life points at anything wrong per se — he is married to a lovely wife (Lilith Ungerer) and has a young son. He seems to live in an up and coming neighborhood. His wife, however, pushes Raab to ask for a promotion. Adding to that, Raab’s parents stop by for a visit and his mother proceeds to, later on, criticize Raab’s wife when their boy plays hide and seek and freaks the parents out. Friends, ex-classmates, and Raab’s demanding boss add to a pressure cooker of frustration that seems to be boiling inside the otherwise calm and unassuming Raab until he is pushed to the very limit. When the floodgates open, they do so in a matter of fact style that is chilling. Fassbinder films it dead on, unflinching, no music nothing. It brings to mind when men of all ages have gone on killing sprees — it often has signaled a cumulus of frustrations and petty disappointments that build up throughout a lifetime and I won’t even get into toxic masculinity and its poisonous fruit. The resulting fury bursts forwards from an inability to fulfill all the requirements that is an ideal husband/employee signifies. Fassbinder’s film, then, represents an inversion of the family nucleus and had it been an American movie, a perversion to the extreme of the American Family.

Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (image from Criterion Channel)

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Greed has been the great corruptor of mankind. For every legend of a treasure, there has always been a sucker born every minute. And who doesn’t want to arrive at a mythical place, conquer it, and reap its rewards? A hard life is only for those who don’t have ambition, tenacity, and a certain mad streak capable of taking them and everyone else within their party down the dangerous path of deception. Werner Herzog tackles the theme of greed and megalomania in Aguirre, the Wrath of God, a historical adventure based on the exploits of Lope de Aguirre (1510 – 1561), a Spanish conquistador most notable for his pursuit of the elusive city of El Dorado.

From the film’s opening shot of a caravan, as it seems to head down into a hellish jungle, we are in for a surreal ride as the expedition to El Dorado starts with a rather portentous foot but promptly loses its way not just to Aguirre’s megalomaniac ambitions but to hubris and disorder within the group. Aguirre must have been a raging, malignant narcissist who cared for no one but himself (and the resulting glory), because right from the get-go he offs his superior, declares himself the king of all things (hence the title “the Wrath of God”), and drives his party right into the ground, taking everyone with him until no one but himself stands alone, blabbering in tongues to an unforgiving sky in the middle of nowhere while monkeys overtake his cargo and feast at the spoils.

Herzog’s film is a fever dream, never completely grounded in reality but drowning in denial and indulgence that the white man could tame the jungle and reap its rewards. In a way, it seems that through Klaus Kinski’s committed, near-insane performance, he is pointing the finger at many a power-hungry explorer/businessman attempting to rape an existing culture of its riches without understanding its essence. Meanwhile, at every turn, it seems as though the jungle itself was laughing at the poor men who are simply obeying orders from a man who has no logic. Herzog’s is a merciless film that spares no one — not the taciturn former African slave who was once a prince — can’t react at the attack of the indigenous people and die almost in bliss, or the two women in the caravan, Ines de Atienza (Mexican actress Helena Rojo) and Flores de Aguirre (Cecilia de Rivera in her only acting role), who surrender themselves to the unforgiving country.

The sad part of this is that despite the manner that Aguirre’s expedition ended, he has not been the last one seeking a mythical pot of gold. Greed and madness was the center of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Lost City of Z, Embrace of the Serpent, and influenced even Apocalypse Now. In the end, the craving for the high life showered by a bevy of honors and a harem have been the sirens’ song for many an adventurer seeking thrills without measuring the consequences. Herzog simply melts into the background and lets the movie speak for itself and mankind’s folly.

Jennifer Kent’s THE NIGHTINGALE brings shared trauma from both sides of Australian colonialism.

Aisling Franciosi plays Clare, a woman bent on tracking the man who ruined her life in Jennifer Kent’s second movie The Nightingale. Baykali Ganambarr is Billy, the man she employs as her tracker.

THE NIGHTINGALE. Country, Australia. Canada, US. Director, Jennifer Kent. Screenwriter, Jennifer Kent. Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr, Sam Claflin, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Michael Sheasby. Language, English, Scottish Gaelic, Palawa Kani. Runtime, 136 minutes. Venue: IFC Center. Mostly Indies rating: A

I’m a bit thrown off by the way that this, Jennifer Kent’s second film following her massive breakthrough The Babadook, is being marketed as a revenge film. Let me explain. Revenge does drive much of the story, but after the credits rolled, and the Q & A ended, I was left with a much bigger understanding about the tapestry woven in The Nightingale.

The events of Kent’s powerful story involve Clare (Aisling Franciosi), a young Irish convict living a hardscrabble life in 1820s Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land) with her husband and infant baby. Clare owes her freedom — and her fate — to Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin, who takes his character to the very edge of psychopathy), who takes delight in abusing Clare and forcing her to sing for his gang of alcoholic soldiers. After an incident in which Hawkins goes overboard in his mistreatment of her — a thing that has not gone unnoticed by his superior — Clare’s husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby), who’s had enough of this no-win situation, decides it’s time for he, Clare, and their young baby, to leave. However, a confrontation with Hawkins escalates into a terrible act of violence that leaves the family completely destroyed in the most literal sense, and Clare is left for dead.

When she revives, her personality is completely changed. No longer the submissive young woman of the start of the film, Clare seeks justice with the determination of a warrior. However, being a convict (and a woman against a man’s word), justice does not happen. So she burns her home, enlists Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), a local Aboriginal male to help her track Hawkins and his gang with the promise of payment. Hawkins, in the meantime, has left in search of a promotion he expects to receive.

Image from The Film Stage

Clare’s and Billy’s journey, which at times reminded me somewhat of the Hepburn – Bogart adventure in The African Queen (with the obvious difference that Clare’s and Billy’s takes place on land), comes with its own share of difficulties. The relationship between Clare and Billy is appropriately prickly, so much that it risks losing the audience who might momentarily stop caring for Clare. However, the times do indicate that neither Clare nor Billy would have been on good terms to begin with due to their racial differences alone and that Billy’s kind would have been seen as less than human. However, Clare is keenly aware that she needs Billy’s expert knowledge of the land to fulfill her plan. As a lone woman in the 1820s, Clare would be, by proxy, subject to rape or even murder by men in the wilderness who live beyond the law. Adding to her troubles is her own rash behavior. Throughout the film she forgoes safety and ventures into questionable behavior. Billy, on the other hand, has no beef in this situation, and once he witnesses Clare go into a maniacal fury against one of the men responsible for her tragedy — a premature climax — he almost turns away.

However, by this point, there is an indefinable link between the two of them, and his sense of duty as well as her own realization that she is lost without him keep them firmly together as they advance to whatever awaits them at the end of this chase.

This is where The Nightingale begins to morph into something else. Anyone seeking the flat revenge picture offered through the trailer will be disappointed. Anyone wanting to see a deeply moving story about shared grief which renders us the same at the hands of fate will truly be moved by Kent’s story. While we, as the audience, demand that Hawkins pay for his atrocities — mind you, he doesn’t stop at Clare but moves on to casually destroy the defenseless –, and indeed we will get there, Kent keeps a firm focus on Clare and Billy moving steadily behind, always within grasp of their objective. By the use of their own native languages — Clare’s Gaelic as a furious soundboard to Billy’s own Palawa Kani — we hear two people railing against the horrors of colonialism. Billy realizes that Clare and he share much more, even when it takes her a bit longer to reach this point of understanding, so focused is she in her mission. These are two haunted people that learn to stick together. Their scenes together form passages of enormous beauty in which Clare will sing softly into the night, or towards the end, when all is said and done, the two face a brilliant Sun and Billy, clothed in the garments of his people, performs a dance of defiance, daring the world to erase him.

The Nightingale is not an easy film to see. This is a movie marked by acts of incredible violence against women and Aborigines alike, and after Clare’s own horrific sequence, there will be one more that happens twice, almost daring the audience to look away. Kent, however, will not do that, and instead keeps the camera on its grim, awful story because the near eradication of the native people at the heart of the historical drama demand it so. This is a far, far stronger piece than The Babadook because this one is rooted in a bleak part of Australian history, whereas horror is often trapped in its own genre limitations. That Kent tackles this topic with so much elegance and compassion speaks of her commitment to telling the truth, even when the result might not be satisfying at all levels.


Director: Lucrecia Martel
Runtime: 115 minutes
Language: Spanish
Mostlyindies.com grading: C —
Argentina usually produces strong dramas that engage you right from the onset, so it confuses me as to why Lucrecia Martel’s film, Zama, based on an obscure novel by Antonio di Benedetto, winds up looking austerely beautiful with hints of the Colombian Embrace of the Serpent and Argentina’s own Jauja. Now, looking at the sheer lever of the producers involved – which include giants like the Almodovars alongside Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover, Julia Solomonoff (who’s own picture Nadie Nos Mira won Best Actor at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and just enjoyed its run at the Film Forum; do seek this film out on DVD please) – I can perhaps see a reason. Twenty-seven producers thought adapting di Benedetto’s novel would be a great idea and perhaps on paper, it does look like it. But the film version never takes off unless we take into account a burgeoning relationship between the lead character (Daniel Jimenez Cacho) and the treasurer’s flirtatious wife (Lola Duenas).


To wit, this is the synopsis of the movie: Don Diego de Zama, a Spanish officer stationed in Asuncion, awaits his transfer to Buenos Aires. As it reads, this synopsis doesn’t exactly translate into compelling or engrossing and the picture itself remains unwilling to truly introduce us into Diego de Zama the man, how he arrived, who he is as a person, and his almost paralyzing fear of the mostly unseen super-villain Vicuña Porto who does make a late appearance in a rather surprising way. There is precious little that engrosses you to want to know what transpired in Asuncion. Yes, we wait for Zama’s transfer, while he parades himself as though he were a statue in movement, and it slowly becomes clear that this might not happen.  Zama, at first seen proud and authoritarian, begins to age and crumble by the sheer force of time imposed in exile. Meanwhile, we fail to truly connect because the movie’s own dense nature makes it nearly impossible to understand only at a marginal level. If at least the film had a hint of humor at what seems to be an absurd situation, perhaps it would be more engrossing, Sadly, we are left with a movie that slogs forward at a pace some art cinema snobs aficionados would like to identify as deliberate. To me, it’s as fast moving as the waters of those nearly still rivers covered in moss pictured at the end in what could be the film’s most dreamlike and serene sequence.


Zama, a curious movie without a start and an ending,  has been selected as the Argentinian entry for the Best Foreign Language movie at the 90th Academy Awards. Its release date will be sometime in 2018.



Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Co-director: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Runtime: 107 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies grading:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If there ever were a studio capable of capturing the essence of myth and magic and distilling inspirational images of heroism and victory in the face of certain adversity while also enhancing the human experience down to minutiae, that would have to be Disney and its sister studios. Drawing elements of the real, where for a period of almost time Polynesian people did not seem to communicate with one another or sail to open waters to explore, directors Clements, Musker, Hall, and Williams create a tale from pure scratch that is in equal parts a coming-of-age, retribution, and pure movie magic. The theme of Moana is the return of the heart of Mother Earth, a glowing stone  dressed as an emerald-green crystal (which believers of New Age teachings could identify as the heart chakra). In presenting the action through the two main characters — the human Moana and the fallen demigod Maui, you have here a tale of redemption. Moana’s brave trip to the ocean — a trip that which looks preordained due to the fact that since Moana was an infant, the ocean would call out to her as if knowing her part already — literally redeems her people from certain death and establishes her position in society as a worthy successor to her father’s rule. Maui, who has the heavier responsibility to bear, resists during most of the movie until he has no other option than to support Moana in her quest and confront the goddess Te Ka/Te Fiti in order to receive his own powers and absolution. Both Lilui’i Cravahlo and Dwayne Johnson play out their parts to near perfection; both seem to have been born to play these roles and in turn also pay their respects to their own culture. A wonderful, instant classic from Disney and one that now features a feminist heroine completely independent from the limitations of plot development — she doesn’t have a prince who in turn has to save her — and also doesn’t conform to the look and feel of older Disney heroines. Don’t be surprised if either Heihei (Alan Tudyk) and Tamatoa (Jemaine Clements) appear in other films. The post-credits sequence seems to suggest so that at least one of them will do so.

Moana is available on all DVD/VOD formats.


Director: Bill Condon
Runtime: 129 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies grading:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

It’s safe to say that Beauty and the Beast is one of those rare stories that seems to be impermeable to remakes. However, it might be the reason the French live action film from 2014, which barely made a dent in US Cinemas, was a dismal failure despite gorgeous production values (although nothing close to Condon’s version, I will say). The irony of the 2014 version, which starred Lea Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, and veteran actor Andre Dussolier, is that their version is more or less closer to the original although it adds a subplot of a mercenary rogue played by Eduardo Noriega. Perhaps audiences are too entrenched with the Disney animated musical, and in my theory, they should be: Condon pulls out all the visual stops almost from the word go, and he raises the bar until he (and we) reach the showstopping musical sequence “Be Our Guest” and follows it up rather swiftly with the crucial dance/romantic sequence where Belle dances with the Beast. The ghost of Busby Berkeley hovers over heavily over the first sequence, in which everyone animated and inanimate performs as though they’d been waiting a lifetime just for this moment. However, the dance sequence that follows shortly after is probably one of the most romantic pieces ever made and while it might not dethrone the 1991 version it comes extremely close to in lighting and mood alone. Whether you are a fan of the 1991 version, I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed with this one.