2022 Movie Reviews: Encanto / Coda / Flee / A Hero / The House / Jockey

Six movies this week including four streaming options.

Encanto

Encanto might be one of the most gorgeous animated Disney movies I’ve ever seen in my life, full of bright, vibrant colors and show-stopping set-pieces. This makes it all the more frustrating that it can’t match these awesome visuals with an engaging narrative or good music. The only memorable song it has is “Waiting on a Miracle”, and admittedly that’s a fantastic song, but the rest of the music falls flat. It opens with an introducing-the-characters opening number that’s all over the place, both lyrically and musically. I’m scratching my head thinking “What the fuck is this?” while I meet a bunch of the protagonist’s siblings with magic powers. Powers like superhuman strength and never having a bad hair day, and the grandma (essentially the CEO of the family) who seems to have every magic power ever. Then there’s Mirabel (beautifully voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), our protagonist, who was sadly born without any magical abilities and subsequently, feels super shitty about it. This opening number attempts to jam-pack all this superfluous exposition into the verses rendering the film overwhelming and a bit confusing only five or so minutes in. You get the feeling this story could have been streamlined significantly but the filmmakers opted to add in this disappearing Uncle character (voiced by John Leguizamo, really struggling through the singing) that muddies up the waters even more. At nearly two hours, it’s definitely overlong and I found myself never quite able to get enraptured by it, even while the visuals were blowing my mind. It does have a very positive message for kids though, which is that it’s okay to have a bad hair day. I think we can learn from that. Grade: C+ (Disney+)

Coda

Emilia Jones appears in CODA by Siân Heder, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Much easier to follow than Encanto, and definitely to a fault, is the Oscar-baitiest Oscar movie of the season, Coda. Coda takes a very interesting, mostly deaf, fisherman family unit and mad libs them into the most basic and predictable odd-duck-of-the-family-overcoming-obstacles-to-succeed story structure. Exceptionally talented teen actor Emilia Jones plays Ruby, the only member of the Rossi clan that can hear and communicate by speaking. Because of this, she’s basically the ambassador of the family by default, cursed with the daunting task of having to translate everything fishing-business-related for them as well as ordering beer for them at restaurants. She spends so much time taking care of her family she basically has no time to take care of herself. Since this largely functions like a movie of the week, she is of course gifted with this beautiful Adele-esque singing voice, a gift her parents (Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin and Troy Katsur), and hunky brother (Daniel Durant) can never experience because they can’t hear. A stock music teacher character (La Familia P. Luche‘s Eugenio Derbez, completely wasted here) takes an interest in her and wants to help her get into Berklee, but that means she’d have to leave her family behind. Of course, this all happens while the local fisherman community is essentially being extorted by government regulations and the family needs Ruby more than ever, and hey guess what, she also finds romance with a shy boy and fellow singer at school. This is all a shame for many reasons but none bigger than the fact it wastes a very strong core cast of actors, especially Troy Katsur as the family patriarch, who delivers nomination-worthy work. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a small handful of scenes that genuinely moved me (all involving Troy Katsur and Emilia Jones of course) but they are few and far between a lot of tired coming-of-age tropes. Grade: C+ (AppleTV)

Flee

Flee takes a riveting real-life interview with an Afghani refugee and lets it down with animation that often fails to convey the emotional complexities of the protagonist, really the emotional complexities of any human character in the movie. Based on the audio from the interview, Amin Nawabi is a fascinating person with a fascinating story, but the animation gives him a permanent resting sad face throughout. Even when he nervously laughs when relaying painful information, the animation chooses not to capture that. I get where it’s coming from, Nawabi has been through more trauma, heartbreak and uncertainty than most twenty people combined, but that doesn’t mean he exists without moments of levity. Practically no one does, and the interview audio absolutely confirms this. While this is beginning to sound like another negative review, Flee does enough well to be considered a good film. It wisely refuses to get hung up on the cruelty of Nawabi‘s oppressors and focuses mainly on the dignity of its subject. This could have been a montage of human traffickers being outrageously cruel, like many of its cinematic contemporaries, but it fully resists that salacious urge. There’s a scene late in the movie set in the back of a van smuggling Nawabi and another young man, his first crush, to safety that feels more human than anything in the movie. It’s serious and somewhat sad but offers morsels of hope and sweetness the rest of the film desperately needed. Overall, this is an important story told very well by its subject that’s let down in its translation to screen. It’s worth your time and should be coming to streaming soon. Grade: B (In Theaters)

A Hero

Debt is really fucking bad in Iran apparently, as seen in the mildly gut-wrenching latest film by Asghar Farhadi, the king of Middle Eastern family dramas. Farhadi has made nine films thus far, but I’ve only seen four – this one, The Salesman, The Past, and of course, A Separation. While A Separation is a bonafide masterpiece and the best film of 2011, The Salesman is merely a very good one while The Past is pretty disappointing. This one, A Hero, is about on par with The Salesman in that it is very good filmmaking and smart writing but doesn’t find the emotional momentum that would have pushed it over the head. This one feels like it taps into something more cerebral than emotional and at times can feel a bit rote. It follows a man in debtor’s prison, Rahim (Amir Jadidi), who gets released on a two-day leave and tries to convince his creditor (Mohsen Tanabandeh) to essentially drop the charges against him. The creditor seems like a cold, greedy asshole so while Rahim contemplates going back to jail, something totally unexpected happens. He finds a bag with a bunch of gold in it, leaving him with the moral quandary of pawning the gold and paying back his debt or trying to return the bag to the owner cause that’s the “right thing to do.” Rahim decides to return the bag and is instantly praised by the media as a hero, but skeptics emerge from the shadows and try to cancel him. While this sounds like a plot rife for a thriller, A Hero is a slow-burn drama at its heart. It’s never boring but one wishes it had more pizzaz or using a Yiddish word, more “chutzpah”. A Hero is so polite you want to scream at it, but it does do something very important which is it completely empathizes with all of its characters, even the creditor. A lesser film would draw a clear and easy solution/moral code to everything, but A Hero is smart enough to realize life is extremely complicated and every decision we make affects several people, not just ourselves. I respected this film more than I explicitly enjoyed it. Grade: B+ (Amazon Prime)

The House

Anthologies are always a crapshoot, but it’s nice to find one where all the stories are good, even if it’s to differing degrees. The House is a stop motion animation, dark comedy/existential horror film for adults, which is not to say it’s explicit or obscene. It’s only to say that the issues it tackles, mainly the trials and tribulations of being a homeowner, simply won’t resonate with children. At the onset, The House almost seems like an early Peter Jackson puppets-fucking-each-other movie only much deeper and less gross. To be certain, there are some off-putting and downright gross moments in the film, mostly in the second story, a deranged laugh riot about a rat dude, with no taste, trying to flip a house while battling an army of fur beetles and a series of rude potential buyers. This is the yuckiest of the stories and easily the funniest, but it’s not nearly as terrifying or unsettling as the first story about a struggling family of humans, uprooted and manipulated by a sadistic real-estate mogul. The third story is without question the weakest link. It follows a lady cat landlord of a shitty old mansion, struggling to get rent from her two kookie tenants – a young hipster cat who insists on paying her in fish and a middle-aged psychic cat who insists on paying her in healing crystals. This is a bizarre trio of shorts from a quartet of U.K. filmmakers I’ve never heard of before (Emma de Swaef, Marc James Roels, Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Paloma Baeza) but it’s strong enough to make me interested in whatever future endeavors they have in store. Grade: B (Netflix)

Jockey

I’ve always admired the work of character Clifton Collins, Jr., from his haunting portrayal of a man on death row in Capote to his turn as El Lazo in HBO’s Westworld. He’s never really been given his shot as a leading man, until now, and it breaks my heart is was in something as unremarkable and undercooked as Jockey. Basically a shot-for-shot remake of the much superior Mickey Rourke-led The Wrestler, Jockey is an old-dog’s-last-rodeo story of an aging jockey with a horrible back injury, coming to terms with not being able to do the only thing he loves. Deadwood‘s Molly Parker plays his boss/friend-with-benefits and oh wait, he also has a younger jockey claiming to be his son from an old fling. It descends into the most predictable, engineered-for-Sundance tropes, constantly posturing as a prestige character study. It thinks it’s giving us these poignant morsels of a man reflecting on his own mortality, but it’s so old hat that it’s practically sketch-comedy. There’s nothing unique or flavorful about this and unless you are well-versed in horse politics, I doubt you’ll find it very interesting. Movies about horses are notoriously boring, even the dumb animated ones, but this one especially tries your patience. Coming in at only 94 minutes, it feels like an ass-numbing two and a half hours. Clifton Collins, Jr. is good but not nearly as great as some critics seem to be praising him to be. Garbage film critic Owen Gleiberman of Variety, formerly Entertainment Weekly, proclaimed this as his best film of the year. He must be a horse owner. Grade: C– (In Theaters)

SIDE NOTE – I saw this at Harkins Shea 14 in Scottsdale, which is basically like what Camelview used to be. It was a tiny theater and I was the only one in it. In storms this family of like eight people – a mom, a dad, what I’m assuming is a grandfather or uncle, an older teen, and three small children. I’m struck by how tiny the man is, I thought to myself, “He could be a Jockey.” Sure enough, 30 minutes into the movie I see the same man on screen playing one of the jockeys in a support group scene. HOLY SHIT. A real live celebrity and his family seeing the movie. Unfortunately, his kids were as bored and underwhelmed as me and basically heckled the movie. Up and down to the bathroom, a bunch of times, while the mom was freaking out. Poor guy.

Also Streaming and/or In Theaters…

Licorice Pizza (In Theaters)

Scream 5 (In Theaters)

The Power of the Dog (Netflix)

Don’t Look Up (Netflix)

Being the Ricardos (Amazon Prime)

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy ($4.99 rental on Amazon)

The Tender Bar (Amazon Prime)

Shiva Baby (HBOMax)

Titane ($4.99 rental on Amazon)

Benedetta ($6.99 rental on Amazon)

Pig (Hulu)

Together Together (Hulu)

Black Bear (Hulu)

Another Round (Hulu)

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar (Hulu)

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