Mini-Reviews of recent Films, Documentaries and TV Shows

—— Movies ——

Nomadland (2020). It has the feel almost of a documentary. Shot with a lot of real people (but some of them are actors). Basically it is about people, good people, trying to make the best of a bad situation. For the main character, Fern, it is also about a journey of trying to find a new place for yourself. Like, the communities of unlucky people she ends up in, is she ready to accept that she wants to be part of a community like that? Does she see herself as one of those people or is she still ready to climb back into the rat race if she can? These questions keep popping up. The film is also about a part of America that is cruel, their unforgiving social system where if you are unlucky, you’re fucked. But after a while, Fern’s own choices start to matter. What are her plans for the future, if any? I thought it was a touching film, but you have to do some work to walk in her shoes and observe what she observes around her, because there is no straightforward story of things and happenings being spoonfed to you in clearly defined acts. 

Mortal Kombat (2021). It’s one of those very basic samurai movies from the 80s or 90s, and the modern special effects and big budget do their utmost to make something watchable out of it, but it is like pulling a dead cow out of the mud. You can wash it and give it a paint job, but it is still dead inside. And sad. But you know what? The blood and gore won me over in the end.

Another Round (2020). Oscar winner for best foreign film, and justly so. This is a really great film! Because it is about drinking I was afraid that it would either be about macho drinking nonsense or would have heavy moralising lessons, but it is neither. It is about letting some joy back into your life and feeling like you’re young again. It has some smart drama too and the whole story is just perfectly acted and directed. Mads Mikkelsen gives an Oscar-worthy performance and I walked away with a happy, uplifted feeling.

The Mitchells vs The Machines (2021). A new high-energy, quirky animation for all you hyperactive kids out there. The movie cleverly combines 3D, 2D and ADHD in a creative, neon-colored whirlwind. I liked it a lot. I liked the jokes and the creativity behind it. The film is in the running for funniest robots of the year, best animated family conflicts and best use of synthwave. 

Oxygen (2021). French film. A nail-biting scifi-thriller about a woman who wakes up in a malfunctioning cryogenic pod. She doesn’t remember anything, can’t get out and the oxygen is running out. The only way forward is to squeeze information out of the pod’s AI. A bit similar to Buried (2010) with Ryan Reynolds. Melanie Laurent is amazing in this – her panic and claustrophobia can be felt in the gut, and the story keeps you guessing. Avoid the English dub.

—— Documentaries ——

My Octopus Teacher (2020). Oscar winner for Best Documentary. A beautiful calming, meditative documentary about a guy befriending an octopus. It sounds a bit simple, but this one does as much as an Attenborough documentary to instill awe and wonder about nature. In fact, it is a more intimate story than you normally see. And this film just shows again how incredibly aware these creatures are. You could dive your whole life amongst shoals of fish and never see them as more than dumb automatons, but meet an octopus and you can see that it is intelligent. It reacts to you, it forms a connection with you. The guy sounds as if he’s in love with a mermaid.

WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn (2021). Documentary about the spectacular rise and fall of a company created by a charismatic fraud. In case you have seen the documentaries about the Fyre festivals, this is similar. WeWork was this cult-like start-up company with a vision that was full of bullshit, but all the fratboys and idealistic yuppies believed in it. But belief cannot create a company all by itself. A fascinating story, and gives you a dose of cynicism and realism.

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (2019). Another documentary about a fraudulent tech company’s rise and fall. Theranos created a magical blood-testing machine that never actually worked, but got people to invest millions. Another personality cult around the founder kept the company alive. The young Miss Holmes was probably psychopathic but got people to believe that she was a once-in-a-century genius. Online reviews say that the documentary went easy on her and that reality was much worse – people’s lives were at stake. The docu is a bit superficial on Holmes, but the story is interesting enough.

—— TV Shows ——

Love, Death and Robots (2019). Season 1. Actually an anthology series of animated shorts, between 6 and 18 minutes each. Some of the shorts are adaptations of short stories by well-known SF writers. Alastair Reynolds’s Zima Blue and Beyond the Aquila Rift are here. Ken Liu’s Good Hunting from his collection The Paper Menagerie, and two stories written by John Scalzi. Each short is animated by a different team and some of them highlight the latest in breathtaking animation technology. About half of the shorts are good. Some are disappointing. Some look like cut scenes from a computer game and are full of uncanny valley. Many of them are about tits and ass in a cyberpunk environment. Many of them are worth watching and the variety of animated styles keeps it fresh. 

Love, Death and Robots (2019). Season 2. Eight more animated shorts, again many written by well-known authors such as Paolo Bacigalupi, John Scalzi, Neal Asher and J.G. Ballard. Again, many of the shorts have this uncanny videogame look. I prefer 2D animation for the variety in style it brings, but the 3D also looks beautiful at times. Were I a cynical man, I would have said that they look like tech demos. Come to think of it, almost every short is created by a different animation studio. Lovely business model. Half of the stories are memorable, the rest so-so. 

Shadow and Bone (2021). Season 1. Based on the wildly successful fantasy books by Leigh Bardugo. It looks great, with good production and special effects, but I quit watching after 4 episodes. All the characters are troubled young adults, including a feared mafia boss who runs a gambling den, which just seems laughable. The adults are all meanyheads to the teenagers. The main character is a self-absorbed young girl without any sense of responsibilities. There is some simplified social commentary about racism that comes across as confused. I quit before the inevitable love triangle came to fruition. 

The Witcher (2019). Season 1. Based on Sapkowski’s books and the video games. What a breath of fresh air after Shadow and Bone! Even though The Witcher is not at all, say, innovative in any way. It is just plain old adult sword and sorcery, and having fun with that. The world-building is a bit haphazardly slapped together and the internal timelines are confusingly presented, but the short story format is very entertaining. Henry Cavill works fine as the titular Witcher, although his growl is a bit ridiculous (but likely inspired by The Witcher computer games). The production and fight choreography are excellent. I look forward to season 2. Toss a coin to your Witcher…

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20 Responses to Mini-Reviews of recent Films, Documentaries and TV Shows

  1. Florin says:

    Thanks for the mini-reviews! I am watching Nomadland now, can’t wait to get back to it. And I think I’ll follow it with Another Round…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bookstooge says:

    I’m still looking forward to the new Mortal Kombat, even if it’s dead inside 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wakizashi says:

    It’s nice to read your thoughts on these different works. Some I’ve heard of, others I’ve not, so thanks for the heads-up. I enjoyed some of the first season of Love, Death and Robots. I’m watching the second season now. I like the different animation styles, even the ones that look like game clips, as you pointed out. “Zima Blue” is one of my favourites. It inspired me to buy the book of short stories by Reynolds. Also, the Ken Liu story you mentioned is a great piece of animation.

    I watched The Witcher and thought it was pretty good overall, mainly because of Henry Cavill. THAT sword fighting scene in the first episode is stunning. I would’ve liked a bit more Cavill though, as he appeared less and less as the series went on. It is titled “The Witcher” after all. Cautiously optimistic for Season 2.

    I gave up on “Shadow & Bone” after the first two episodes. It all looks very nice but I agree with the criticisms you point out. I’m probably not the intended audience anyway. Now I really want to watch “Another Round”.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Zima Blue was also one of my favourites. The second season is much shorter, but it has a lot of stories that are worth watching.

      The Witcher season 2, I heard it was coming out this year? I am also looking forward to the lord of the rings show and the Foundation show coming up.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. piotrek says:

    I definitely need to see Nomadland and Another Round. Still have some hopes for Shadow & Bone, but no time to check it. I’ll definitely find some time for Love, Death and Robots S02, the first one was in parts smart, but altogether aesthetically pleasing 🙂
    I also hear good things about “The Nevers”, Whedon’s latest creation…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ola G says:

    I really want to see My Octopus Teacher and the new Mikkelsen. I wanted him to play the Witcher, btw 😉
    I read Shadow and Bone and thoroughly despised it, so big “no, thanks” to the TV series. I’m watching Jupiter’s Legacy now, not bad. Nomadland is still on my list, I heard you need to be in a proper mood and this proves hard to find these days.

    Cool reviews, Jeroen! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Mikkelsen would have been great as The Witcher! My Octopus Teacher… is a bit divisive. Many people think it is beautiful but many also are a bit affronted that it won the Oscar for best documentary. Many cannot stand the guy of the story. There seems to be some confusion over whether this documentary is to be seen as a “nature documentary”, meaning that the guy makes the story too much about himself, or as a documentary about a guy with a burnout who learned to find himself again by befriending an octopus.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Joachim Boaz says:

    I always love exploring the Oscar Foreign film category! And, for a similar reason, there must be a category for Best SF in translation for the Hugo Awards.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are so many good films produced all over the world. It would be a shame to miss them. You just need to accept subtitles now and then. Luckily as a Dutch guy I grew up with subtitles for all my TV shows and films.

      Like

  7. bormgans says:

    Have you seen Festen by Vinterberg? If not, remedy that ASAP.

    Liked by 1 person

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