Seth’s Favorite Film Discoveries of 2021

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974, dir. Martin Scorsese)

From my full review: Scorsese delivers a pitch-perfect comedy-drama that never once feels phony. He ends up presenting one of the most honest mother-son relationships I’ve seen in a film. Alice is by no means a conventional mother, and she regularly engages in arguments with her son that seem more appropriate for a friend. She is still a parent and is determined to keep her son out of trouble while allowing him space to make mistakes and learn. The things she exposes her son to might cause some viewers to judge her for being immature and irresponsible. Tommy is present when Ben becomes violent with Alice. When Alice gets involved with David, Tommy is a part of their going out. It makes sense, though, because Alice’s life has a big chunk devoted to Tommy, so any person she might partner with is going to need to understand and get along with her child.

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Movie Review – Parallel Mothers

Parallel Mothers (2021)
Written & Directed by Pedro Almodovar

At this point, can we acknowledge that Pedro Almodovar’s work exists in its own genre of cinema? The feel and look of all his movies are just so beyond everything else out there. He builds suspenseful narratives on premises that aren’t inherently thriller material. There is an ever-present sinister vibe, but ultimately his characters embrace the conflict and work through it, often forming makeshift families and coming to terms with the weight of the past. Almodovar clearly loves the stylish thrills of Hitchcock and the scandalous developments of telenovelas but also feels a need to address the history of Spain, especially war crimes and atrocities. The result is just unlike anything you will see anywhere else.

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Seth’s Favorite Books of 2021

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

From my review: The story begins with Lauren, still a teenager, living with her father, stepmother, and brothers in their gated community. The people have barricaded the walls and gate and, under the guidance of Lauren’s father, created a tenuous but self-sustaining system. The story begins with very episodic moments, signs that things aren’t great, and as the narrative continues getting worse. Butler focuses her themes on the balance of individual & collective survival. Lauren begins preparing in secret for the day the walls don’t hold the hungry & wanting out anymore. She learns everything she can from her father’s library about survival in the wilderness and then goes about creating a go-bag with everything she would need to set out. At the same time, there’s a strong emphasis on teaching these skills to others. Lauren knows she could be perfectly prepared, but it will be much harder for her to survive independently. While most people in this future are becoming more savage, Lauren understands life without human connection is simply not worth it.

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Movie Review – Drive My Car

Drive My Car (2021)
Written by Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe
Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi

There’s just something about filmmakers taking author Haruki Murakami’s short fiction and giving their own spin on them. See Lee Chang-dong’s Burning. This time around, Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi gives us a three-hour adaptation of a short from Men Without Women. He certainly takes a lot of artistic discretion and takes the story in a different direction than its original form. Author Murakami has become infamous for inserting “manic pixie dream girl” types in his work, and this film has several women that influence our protagonist but not by forfeiting their own agency or depth as characters. The result is simply one of the best, most moving film experiences of the year.

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Movie Review – Don’t Look Up

Don’t Look Up (2021)
Written by Adam McKay and David Sirota
Directed by Adam McKay

The planet Earth is fucked. Our leaders have clearly decided they will let this climate change thing play itself (while ensuring they have bunkers to survive in), with assurances all of us slaving plebs will be “just fine.” How can you not be enraged about this? But at the same time, who has the time to spend their days worrying over a cataclysmic event so cosmically significant that we have no way as individuals to effect change? Adam McKay’s latest film isn’t taking any chances and is as blunt as possible about the absurdity of modern life in the face of impending existential and literal extinction. It’s no surprise that a movie as explicit as Don’t Look Up has carved a chasm through discourse online (such a rare occurrence, right?). This is a movie where your reaction to it says more about you as a person than the quality of the film.

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Movie Review – C’mon C’mon

C’mon C’mon (2021)
Written & Directed by Mike Mills

I’ve never understood the mentality of older people to look down on children. In recent years, young people’s thoughts have been fundamental to me as it is apparent that the generation in power has no idea how to get us out of our current problems. I don’t think it’s because of my job teaching, because I have met many teachers who view young people with great disdain. It’s possibly attributed to being surrounded by incompetent adults as a child that I’ve ended up in this place. Mike Mills seems to also be interested in hearing what young people think, and his latest film is all about really hearing children’s views on the world, being confident that a young person can handle the heaviness life can bring.

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Movie Review – Nightmare Alley (2021)

Nightmare Alley (2021)
Written by Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Having just watched the original Nightmare Alley a week ago, I was a little uncertain how I’d feel about this remake. Guillermo del Toro, like the Wachowskis, is a filmmaker I respect but don’t necessarily enjoy much of their work. It’s clear del Toro is presenting his vision without many studio-directed tweaks and cuts. I’ve begun to think of him as a more thoughtful Tim Burton, someone whose style is matched by the substance of his work. With Nightmare Alley, he comes to the table with a solid narrative to work with. He even manages to go with the novel’s original, bleaker conclusion than the 1947’s softened conclusion. However, the movie feels too sterile due to an over-reliance on modern digital cinematography.

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Movie Review – The Matrix Resurrections

The Matrix Resurrections (2021)
Written by Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, and Aleksandar Hemon
Directed by Lana Wachowski

It came as a surprise when I saw a new Matrix film in production. It seemed like a film series that, while successful, was done. Yet, Lana Wachowski decided to make a stand-alone film that revisits this world. I would argue that this doesn’t work as a coherent, cohesive movie but is a fantastic piece of therapy put on the screen. What I mean by that is that Lana has stated in interviews that the idea for Resurrections came out of her grief following the death of her parents. She expressed that she felt such an aching loss from their passing and found herself drawn to two of her favorite characters: Neo and Trinity. In this way, Resurrections is part of Lana’s healing process, and thus I enjoyed it more than most big-budget movies I’ve seen in a while.

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Comic Book Review – Strange Adventures

Strange Adventures (2021)
Reprints Strange Adventures #1-12
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerards and Doc Shaner

Tom King’s work is such a perfect distillation of the current state of mythic media in America today. On the surface, it looks incredible; he has some of the best artistic collaborators out there right now. Mitch Gerards delivered some gorgeously dynamic work in Mister Miracle and continues here. Alongside Gerards, handling flashbacks is MVP Doc Shaner. In an interview, King stated that Shaner draws comics the way people imagine they should look. He is definitely right on that one; it’s a beautiful combination of classical forms and sparks of more modern comics art. You will love each page of this series as it presents some gorgeous visuals. Yet, King himself is a troubling figure. He’s become a punching bag for the eye-willingly ignorant comicsgate right-wing morons. They are right to not like him, but they do so for all the wrong reasons. 

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Movie Review – Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers
Directed by Jon Watts

This is the second time I’ve written a review for Spider-Man: No Way Home this year, the first being an April Fool’s joke which let me imagine what might happen in the picture. Using leaked details, I pieced together a completely over-the-top film which ended up not being too far off from the actual film. If you are someone for whom Spider-Man films mean a lot too, if they are linked to your childhoods, etc., then you are going to love No Way Home. But I am not reviewing it from that perspective; I want to look at this as a movie and as a reflection on the fundamental elements of the iconic character. When we look at No Way Home in this manner, it really falls apart as a cohesive film.

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