CODA (2021)

Ruby (Emilia Jones), a high school girl in Gloucester, Massachusetts, gets up every morning before dawn to help her father Frank (Troy Kotsur) and brother Leo (Daniel Durant) with the daily catch.  She loves to sing and does so very well, but she also happens to be the sole member of her family who can hear, a Child of Deaf Parents (or CODA).  A spur-of-the-moment decision to join the school choir helps her realize her true potential, and the help of her teacher Mr. V (Eugenio Derbez) could land her a college scholarship to study music.  

However, if Ruby’s dreams come true, that would mean leaving her family without a translator for the hearing world.  Will Ruby abandon her dreams of going to college to stay home and continue to help the family business?  Or will her family let her go and find a different way to earn a living?  CODA certainly follows the tried-and-true formula used by many coming-of-age movies that have preceded it.  The difference being that the moving, realistic performances more than make up for the lack of originality of the story.  CODA will definitely tug at your heart strings, but it does so honestly, without relying on melodrama or sentimentality.  The movie is a big win for inclusive storytelling on several fronts.  First, Ruby’s family is portrayed by actors who are deaf in real life.  Second, its honest depiction of Ruby’s family members shows how, contrary to cinematic cliches, they act just like normal people.  (They enjoy drinking beer, smoking and having sex.)   Finally, and most importantly, CODA serves as a prime example of how, with a modicum of effort, people with disabilities or impairments can participate in society just like everybody else.  Highly Recommended.

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The Card Counter (Quick Take)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  A lonely man who lives on the fringes of society seeks to atone for his sins by helping someone else.  This is Paul Schrader’s bailiwick, and with Taxi Driver, First Reformed and other screenplays he’s written throughout his career, he’s created a genre of films all to himself. (His body of work could be called a “franchise”, a commercial connotation that I’m sure he would find darkly humorous.)

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Pig

Pig may be about a man’s search for his stolen pig, but its much more than that.  The emotions evoked by Nicolas Cage are universal, and anyone who has lost a beloved pet would immediately sympathize with his plight.  Under the surface, Pig is a deft examination of tragedy and grief.  Robin, as portrayed by Cage, leaves his former life behind for a (nearly) solitary existence in the woods.  Unfortunately, humans are defined by our connections to others, and those connections are unpredictable.  Cage’s acting is some of the best he’s done in years and should be in the conversation for Best Actor.  Highly recommended.

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Another Round

The story of four middle-aged men in Denmark who decide to engage in a psychological experiment: to see whether living life slightly tipsy makes them better teachers.  Their teaching actually improves, and they confirm that having a drink (or two) helps to put one’s troubles aside temporarily and live and in the moment (surprise, surprise).  Their personal lives take some unexpected turns, however.  Just like with car performance, your life on alcohol may vary.  For the characters in this movie, it’s a choice between soberly dealing with depression and regret on a daily basis, or letting yourself be free enough to let loose and dance.  Highly recommended (unless you’re a teetotaler).

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The Courier

The Courier is a well made and well acted cold war spy movie, but it doesn’t make the impact that it should.  Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Greville Wynne, an everyman recruited by the CIA and MI6 to act as a courier for a high-level contact within the GRU.  I appreciated the production values used to recreate Sixties London and Moscow.  Several performances, including those by Rachel Brosnahan as a CIA agent and Merab Ninidze as spy Oleg Penkovsky stand out. The movie becomes affecting when both heroes are in prison, but before then, it’s a very slow boil.  Lightly recommended.

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Sound of Metal (2020)

Many great movies are based on a question.  Sound of Metal asks two: would you be able to adapt to a major life-altering change to your body?  Also, if you could get back what you lost, would you do it?  The movie is the story of a heavy metal drummer who suddenly loses his hearing.  He is given the opportunity to learn how to function as a deaf person, but he can’t let go of his former life.  Riz Ahmed is excellent as Ruben, the drummer who is forced to learn how to live his life completely differently than before, but cannot let go of his former life.  Highly recommended!

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Minari (2020)

While watching Minari, I couldn’t help but think: is farming the saddest profession?  With so many variables out of your control, a happy and successful farmer would seem to be the exception to the rule.  Farming requires you to deal with the weather, pricing futures, insects, water (or the lack thereof), the physical toll, bank loans, and so on, any of which could leave you teetering on the brink of insolvency.  Being a farmer requires incredible fortitude, physical as well as mental.  You have to fully acquiesce to whatever fate may bring you, good or bad.  Minari fits squarely into the “tough life of the farmer” category of movies, and acquits itself well as a drama. Definitely recommended.

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Pieces of a Woman (2020)

Pieces of a Woman asks a question we never want to answer: how would I handle the death of a child?  The movie provides answers to that question through the perspectives of the mother, the father and the mother-in-law.  The acting in the movie is exceptional, and the childbirth scene is a riveting scene to behold.  After the initial tragedy, the movie becomes a character study in grief, and is effective because the performances are so honest.  Recommended.

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