Once upon a time, in the land known as America in the Go-Go Eighties, there lived a man named Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon).  He worked for Nike as a talent scout, searching far and wide for talent to sign up to promote basketball shoes.  Though he toiled day and night, his efforts proved fruitless.  Then, in 1984, the answer to his prayers emerged.  A young collegiate basketball player named Michael Jordan had risen to national prominence by helping North Carolina win the NCAA championship with an amazing shot in the closing seconds.  He was subsequently drafted by the Chicago Bulls and tasked with not only leading them out of obscurity, but to NBA championship glory.  Even though he was only eighteen years old, this didn’t phase him in the least.  Everyone agreed it was only a matter of when he achieved greatness, not if.  No, the biggest question surrounding Jordan was which company he would choose for a highly-lucrative shoe marketing contract.

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A Good Person

A Good Person

Like many movies about drug addiction that have come before, A Good Person asks for our sympathy.  To my surprise, it got it without a struggle.  It tells the story of Allison (Florence Pugh), a young woman who became addicted to prescription painkillers after a fatal traffic accident.  Physically, she seems fine.  Allison moves about normally when she chooses to and has no visible scars.  Mentally, she’s in an entirely different place.  She spends her days in her house with the curtains drawn, lounging around, conspiring ways to obtain a refill of her expired prescription.  Her mother Diane (Molly Shannon) pops over unannounced, throws open the curtains and shrilly demands that her daughter get her act together.  Nobody ever told Diane that the last thing a drug addict wants is a high-energy pep talk.

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The Fabelmans

The Fabelmans

Once upon a time, in a quiet suburb in New Jersey, Burt (Paul Dano) and Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams) take their son Sammy to see his first movie.  He’s apprehensive about the experience, so they do their best to explain it to him.  For an engineer like Burt, movies are nothing more than a magic trick the   projector plays on your brain.  Mitzi, a classically trained pianist, says that movies are dreams that you remember.  Their views on movies, while worlds apart, are both correct.  Sammy didn’t realize it then, but he will spend the rest of his life reconciling the perspectives of his parents on his journey to becoming a Hollywood film director.

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Women Talking

Women Talking

The women in Women Talking live in an isolated colony of Mennonites.  (The story is based on events that took place in Bolivia in 2010.)  They’ve accepted a subservient role in their male-centered society without question.  They are illiterate and their education consists solely of the tenets of their religion.  Their responsibilities consist of tending to the household, bearing and raising children.  Anything else is the exclusive domain of the men.  For a long time, the women in the colony have accepted their lot in life with an unwavering faith.  They have also placed their complete trust in the men as the leaders of their colony and their religion.  Women Talking examines what happens after the women learn that their trust has been horrifically abused.

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Where The Crawdads Sing

If Where The Crawdads Sing was only about a girl living in the North Carolina marsh who, after being abandoned by her entire family, learned how to survive and grew up to become a successful nature illustrator, the movie would have been a compelling one.  Unfortunately, the story doesn’t have anywhere near the confidence that Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) has in herself.  Instead of following through on the themes of independence and self-reliance, the story chooses a safer approach by including a plethora of subplots that are under-cooked and unconvincing.

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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 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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