Scenes At The Shiva (Film thoughts: Shiva Baby)

Forget ‘Godzilla vs King Kong,’ because I think ‘Shiva Baby’ is the most thriller-like, stressful movie of the year. And it’s also intelligent and smart, and funny – all the things you are looking for in a movie.

Set in a funeral, Emma Seligman’s film is about Danielle (Rachel Sennott) who is just about to graduate from College. She is invited by her mother to sit shiva on someone she vaguely recalls but doesn’t really know. She is just coming from her sugar daddy, and doesn’t want to face all her relatives, who make a big fuss about her marital status, her college degree, her weight. Of course, when she gets there, she is accosted by her ex-girlfriend, and surprise of all surprises, her sugar daddy shows up, accompanied by his wife and child. Are we having fun yet?

We are. Seligman captures the stress of the situation, with tight shots that make us feel as claustrophobic as the main character. It all adds up to a big boil of a climax, and then tempered down by ridiculous humor. The acting is superb all around – Sennott is magnificent, able to relay all emotions at the same time flawlessly. And the pace is crisp and brisk – so much happens in 77 minutes. This is a must-see.

Christian Camp (Movie Thoughts: A Week Away)

Use the ‘High School Musical’ formula, insert Christian elements in it, cast same fresh-faced bland teenagers, and what do you get? Netflix’s ‘A Week Away.’ You could just imagine that the film is rife for mocking, but you know what? It all went down smoothly for me – the songs can be mostly forgettable but it kept the screen moving, and in a bizarre iconic twist, the male lead is a dead ringer for a young Brent Corrigan. So what’s not to like? It was enjoyable in the most basic and simple way.

Titanic Princess (Film Thoughts: The Last Cruise, HBO Max)

The cruise industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, and I don’t really know when it will recover from it. And I have been vocal about my love for cruising so it makes me very interested in seeing ‘The Last Cruise,’ a documentary on HBO Max about The Diamond Princess and how it was affected during the early days of the pandemic. It is fascinating, and in some ways similar to the voyage of the Titanic.

The documentary is mostly done through personal video recollections fo some passengers, and even in its scant forty minutes, is pretty powerful. It shows the difference from the points of view of passengers and of the crew, showing the disparity of how they were both treated by the cruise line.

The voyage starts nice enough withs tops in Asian cities in Hong Kong and Vietnam. But somewhere along the way, the ship gets the virus, and when they finally are to disembark in Yokohama, they are told they couldn’t – they have to quarantine for at least fourteen days. That’s when the horror starts, as passengers (as well as infected crew members) are trapped in their cabins. You see the harrowing experiences, the fear as they look out and see people going into the ship in hazmat suits. Meanwhile, the crew has to continue working and serving the passengers, albeit on an abbreviated level. You can also see how the crew was treated. a group of Indonesian dish washers hand together and send a SOS video.

It will make you think twice of the inequality. I know at some point I will cruise again, and these images will haunt me forever.

Happily We Roll Along (Movie Thoughts: Happily)

‘Happily’ wasn’t what I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be one of those relationship films – about a couple and how they are happy, maybe. I know only the basic premise of it, that their friends hate them because they are happy. It turns out that the film is much more – and different – than that. It’s akin to a Twilight Zone episode (I find out later people describing the film that way) and what we have here is a little bit of a murder mystery, and it definitely has elements of sci-fi.

I was taken aback and it took me a while to get accustomed to its tone. But once I settled into it, I found some enjoyment. It definitely isn’t my type of film, but the keep-you-guessing aspect of it kept me interested. The performances are all great, and even though I never believed any of it, it wasn’t boring.

Chaos Boredom (Movie Thoughts: Chaos Walking)

I don’t know what possessed me to want to see ‘Chaos Walking.’ I mean, it’s a sci-fi western two genres I normally do nto like. But let’s be real here – Tom Holland made me watch this, or at least, hsi presence did.

Set int he future, the film is set in a world wherein people’s thoughts can be heard by everyone, in the form of ‘noise.’ (In the film, it’s through voice overs) And this is a future world where all the women have been eradicated, but the fun ends when a young woman arrives.

There you go- that’s basically the film, with a lot of action scenes thrown in. I was bored for the mpst part of it, and I can barely go through writing about it.

Heavy Cherry (Film Thoughts: Cherry)

With a one hunde and forty minute running time, ‘Cherry’ is certainly heavy. Directed Joe and Anthony Russo (of those superhero movies) the film tries to tackle a lot and lobs them all at you. It’s from the memoirs of Nico Walker, who served in Afghanistan, and came back with PTSD. But that only is a fraction of Walker’s story – it also tackles his addiction. and the vices he acquires trying to sustain that drug addiction. It really is a lot, and yes, too much.

And The Russos tell the story vividly, with too much imagination and not enough originality. Everything they do here we have seen before. Everything feels familair, and not special.

So the question is: can Tom Holland make us believe. And can Tom Holland sustain your attention? for the most part, the answer to that question is yes. he gives his all here, and you can sense the total commitment he gives to the film in any and all of his scenes. Is it enough to save the film? Your mileage may vary. I could watch Holland eat vegetables and I would be fine. Others need a little more substance.

As Video Times Go By (Movie Thoughts: The Last Blockbuster)

Once upon a time there were video rental stores…that’s basically the premise and point of ‘The Last Blockbuster,’ which is a film about…the last remaining Blockbuster store in Bend, Oregon. Gen Xers like me will look at teh film fondly, more for nostalgia purposes. My generation grew up with watching movies on video – from Betamax to VHS to DVDs and Blu-Ray – and this film will jog our memory to. different time when renting films was a vital part of our lives. I personally was drawn more to mom-and-pop video places – blockbuster movies never interested me – so I wasn’t really a Blockbuster store kind of guy, but I couldn’t help but relate to most of the talking heads here reminiscing. It’s kind of ironic that I saw this film on Netflix, which is the thing that most people say killed Blockbuster (that wasn’t really the case, as the documentary explained) but I guess we’ll just charge that to the evolution of life.

A Whole New World (Film Thoughts: The World To Come)

Mona Fastold’s ‘The World To Come’ is a pleasant surprise for me. It is set in rural New York circa 1856, and has a feel of a western, but it’s a love story between two women, Tallie and Abigail (played by Waterstone and Vanessa Kirby) It’s a story that slowly burned, and just like most same-sex romance of the time, mostly unspoken. Filmed as if with an Instagram filter, everything is dulled but beautiful, the emotions raw. The females have respective husbands, but from each other’s unhappiness and discomfort you see their attractions blossom. Kirby is fantastic here, and after this and ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ we see a major movie star emerge.

Teen Rebels (Movie Thoughts: Moxie)

Amy Poehler stars and directs ‘Moxie’ so I was excited for it, and had high hopes. I guess Netflix released this right after she and Tina Fey has just finished their stint hosting The Golden Globe Awards. And it is a very earnest effort from her – she has assembled a nice appealing young cast about a high school faced with racial inequality. I have heard some people compare this to ‘Mean Girls,’ and I kind of get that it has a similar vibe. This has a more rocker girl punk feel, wherein a teen, Vivian starts a fanzine addressing the inequalities in the high school system. The result? It’s a mostly funny affair, with some social relevance thrown in. It succeeds more as a teen comedy, also because it is more believable there. When it tries to cover more ‘serious’ issues, it kind of falls flat.

But you believe a lot of it, though. Hadley Robinson, who plays Vivian is appealing even though the villains are cardboard characters. You will feel a lot of the heart, though, and will probably feel that more. ‘Moxie’ is imperfect, but it passes time perfectly.

Prisoner (Film Thoughts: The Mauritanian)

Jodie Foster winning Best Supporting Actress on The Golden Globes made me want to check out Kevin MacDonald’s ‘The Mauritianian’ right away. I mean, I probably would have eventually seen the film anyway. And I knew nothing about it going into the film. I realized then it was based on a book, a memoir by the main character of the film, Mohamedou Ould Salahi, here played by Tahar Rahim, while he was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. Foster plays Nancy Hollander, the lawyer who defended her against the US government.

The film is a good addition to the ‘United States sucks’ genre, and I found the story quite compelling. The film about it, is a mixed bag. The focus is all over the place, leaving the performances to ground and land it. Rahim is sensational, and Foster giving her icy-warm brand of acting (I personally think she should be in lead, not supporting) But I felt drawn in by most of it, and found the time spent worthwhile.