Down From the Shelf ~ The Green Knight (2021)

The Facts:

Synopsis: Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men.

Stars: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, Erin Kellyman, Ralph Ineson

Director: David Lowery

Rated: R

Running Length: 130 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review:  I grew up watching the 1963 Disney film The Sword and the Stone almost on a loop but have oddly kept much of Arthurian legend at a distance for most of my adult life.  I’m not sure why I’ve avoided the sword and sorcery films to date, perhaps it’s the medieval setting and just seeing too much torture and carnage in cheap action/horror films over the years.  Yet when I come across one of these films, I find that I’m definitely up for a nice battle between knights and a good (bad) witch or two and the bigger the production the better.  That’s why I was so surprised that I let The Green Knight slip through my fingers in its initial release in July 2021 where it received a round of enthusiastic reviews.

Recently re-released into theaters timed to the Christmas holiday, I decided to give a blind-bought 4K UHD BluRay a spin to go with the spirit of the season and putting the disc into the player felt a bit like cracking open a gold-leafed copy of a well-told tale.  Gorgeously conceived, tremendously performed, and beautifully told, The Green Knight is one of those films you stumble upon and then stumble out of, shaking your head in disbelief at just how wonderful it actually is.  Often when I hear of these types of indie endeavors and how instantly cult-status-approved they become, I’m wary about giving them too much consideration.  However, in this case all the ballyhoo and flag waving was well-earned – this is lighting in a bottle good stuff and as intricate in its design narratively as the costumes are in their fine details.

Take this as a litmus test.  If you don’t get a little tingle anywhere in your body watching the first minute of the movie, a spooky, moody introducing of the tale of Sir Gawain, then perhaps you aren’t quite in the headspace for it that day.  Only go forward once you feel the tingle.  That way you can be prepped for the story of the impetuous Gaiwan (Dev Patel, The Personal History of David Copperfield) the nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris, Macbeth) who has lived his life unimpeded until the day his mother (Sarita Choudhury, Evil Eye) conjures the titular character.  When the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson, The Tragedy of Macbeth) arrives in Camelot and challenges the Knights of the Round Table to a daunting task of bravery, it is Gaiwan who steps up and faces the magical Knight. Tasked with reuniting with the Green Knight in a years’ time on his home turf, Gaiwan spends the next year partying with his commoner love (Alicia Vikander, Tomb Raider) and not thinking too much about the fate that stands before him.

When the year is up, Gaiwan is set to keep his promise and treks forward through a perilous journey that will present adventure, deception, and distraction leading up to his second encounter with the Green Knight.  Through various episodes with a mourning ghost (Erin Kellyman, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier), a rascally fox, a rogue scavenger (Barry Keoghan, Eternals), and a Lord (Joel Edgerton, Boy Erased) and Lady (Vikander, again), Gaiwan will be tested not just on his strength of spirit but on his willingness to stay the course in the face of a certain fate that was foretold to him. 

For those following his career, director David Lowery is keeping his fans always surprised.  Scoring an indie hit with 2013’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints before turning course with the lovely 2016 remake of Pete’s Dragon, he followed that up with 2017’s A Ghost Story and then the quiet but bold Robert Redford caper comedy The Old Man & the Gun.  Now he’s taking on this project, which is completely different than anything he’s done, and he’s presented a completely realized take on Arthurian legend…and it feels so clear and concise that you’d think he’d been planning it for decades. 

Though not an obvious candidate from the outside, Patel is the right choice for Gaiwan, getting to the heart of the boy as he becomes a man through his journey of self-discovery.  The transition isn’t easily achieved and not without a great deal of fear, all nicely conveyed through work by Patel and Lowery in conjunction with a crackerjack production team.  The cast member with the longest association to the piece was Vikander and using her in multiple capacities was a good call; it plays with the magic surrounding the world that’s been created and also allows for Vikander to get a first-rate monologue in the second half of the film.  Like me, you likely won’t realize you’ve been holding your breath until she’s done speaking. 

Clocking in at the perfect length and never lingering on any shot or sequence longer than it has to, The Green Knight is proof positive that Lowery continues on a winning streak and remains a director that must be tracked.  His attention to the production side is exquisite but how he pairs that with the emotional way into the story is also worth taking note of.  We need more of these kinds of directors that can work to meld both disciplines, the physical and emotional, together.  The Green Knight is an example of it being done to perfection.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Northman

Synopsis: A young Viking prince embarks on a quest to avenge his father’s murder.

Release Date:  April 22, 2022

Thoughts: If you are wondering why the spike in previews for upcoming 2022 films, attribute it to my being won over by a nagging curiosity to take a quick peek at several titles coming down the pike with intriguing premises, interesting casts, or a mixture of both. Take The Northman, for a prime example.  Viking prince and hard-scrabble armies in bloody battles? Uh, yeah!  Cast roster that reads like a MN Movie Man must-see list? You better believe it. Director known for visceral projects that aren’t aiming to please the masses but firmly establish a sense of reality even in circumstances that lean toward fantasy? Bingo! Led by Alexander Skarsgård (The Legend of Tarzan) and featuring Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos), Anya Taylor-Joy (Last Night in Soho), Ethan Hawke (Zeros and Ones), Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man: No Way Home) and featuring a rare appearance by singer/sometimes actress Björk, The Northman, directed by Robert Eggers (The Witch) is already a much-anticipated title for many and you can add me to that list as well.

Movie Review ~ Get Duked!


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Deep in the Scottish Highlands on a camping trip competition, four city boys try to escape a mysterious huntsman while the police trail behind, failing to provide assistance.

Stars: Eddie Izzard, Kate Dickie, James Cosmo, Kevin Guthrie, Jonathan Aris, Alice Lowe, Samuel Bottomley, Viraj Juneja, Rian Gordon, Lewis Gribben, Brian Pettifer, Georgie Glen

Director: Ninian Doff

Rated: R

Running Length: 87 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  A fun bit of movie trivia that always interests me is finding out the original titles of films that either went into production under a different name or saw their title get changed after their original festival run.  Most of the time, the change is for the better.  Would we still be talking about Alien today if it had been released as Star Beast?  How about imagining seeing Charlize Theron in Coldest City instead of Atomic Blonde?  Would Julia Roberts star turn in Pretty Woman had the same seismic impact if it came out as 3000?  Don’t even get me started with Warner Brothers desperately trying to get Tim Burton to swap out Beetlejuice for their preferred alternate House Ghosts.

A few months back, I reviewed and recommended The Shadow of Violence which was previously released and seen in its early film festival runs as the more interesting Calm with Horses and this week sees the debut of another film on Prime Video that’s had a title swap on its way to a wide release.  Filmed originally as Boyz in the Woods, Amazon Studios picked up the film after it played well at last year’s South by Southwest Film Festival and promptly gave it a new name.  While Get Duked! leans into the more playful aspects the viewing experience has to offer and steers clear from sounding like a sketchy film you may not want showing up in your queue, it also exposes some of the problems at the forefront of the movie that’s about as one-joke as they come.

Prior to firing Get Duked! up I had no awareness of the The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award which was started a half-century ago by the Queen’s husband and meant to attract youth that hadn’t yet found their group/club to join.  Designed to promote participation in volunteering, physical fitness, and an expedition to achieve the top rank, it has spread through more than a hundred countries since its inception.  So…clearly, it’s a big deal.  I’d imagine also, at least based on writer/director Ninian Doff’s wacky screenplay, it’s a program that draws some level of ribbing because the jokes at play in Get Duked! feel remarkably on pointe and specifically taking aim at several organizations throughout.

Doff gets things off on the right foot by staging an enjoyably cheeky first 1/3 that introduces us to the three slacker mates forced into participation for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award by their teacher Mr. Carlyle (Jonathan Arias, Vivarium) and the one nerd-ish lad who was more than eager to volunteer.  While the three are hoping to find cell phone reception and a place to get high the moment the adult is out of sight, Ian, the sweet-natured fourth (Samuel Bottomley, Ghost Stories), just wants to make new friends and end the weekend with the Duke’s prize to top it off.  Ian learns quickly that Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben) and William aka DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) have no outdoor experience (or many brain cells) and rely on him to get them through the terrain toward their final destination.

The four have more to worry about than mossy rocks and spoiled haggis though, because what they don’t know at first is that they’re the new prey for hunters out to “cull the herd” of the misspent youth in society and this weekend will be more about survival than they could have ever imagined.  Who is hunting them is a mystery that is solved fairly quickly – it’s a rather famous royal played by Eddie Izzard (The High Note) who has an even more famous wife as his accomplice.  At the same time, the local police led by Sergeant Morag (Kate Dickie, Prometheus) are attempting to apprehend a local bread thief (no joke) and somehow manage to get tangled up in the boys flight from their hunters, which only complicates matters in oddly decreasingly funny ways.  The more that Doff’s screenplay brings these disparate characters together, the funnier it should get, but to me it became less and less interesting instead.  It’s never as crackling as it is in those first 40 minutes and even brief moments of fun (a musical moment featuring DJ Beatroot and a crowd of blissed out country folk is gold) can’t quite drag the film back into alignment.

Now, I’m sure Get Duked! is going to play to crowds looking for that fun Friday night comedy like gangbusters and maybe it’s my problem for watching it on a late afternoon early in the week.  It’s one that has a bit of a party vibe to it, one that allows you to be distracted from the one-joke premise that gets old quickly and can’t hide that the endeavor would have worked better as a short or part of a larger anthology.  It must be said, though, that there’s no shortage of style or creativity in filmmaking and performers, especially Juneja as a freestyle rapper with flow but no show, are great.  Yet I never fully found myself loving it and that began to nag at me after awhile because it reminded me a lot of better movies like Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End, or Hot Fuzz.  Unlike those films, Get Duked! has a one-joke premise that it sticks to, for better or for worse.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Witch

witch

Synopsis: New England, 1630: William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life, homesteading on the edge of an impassible wilderness, with five children. When their newborn son mysteriously vanishes and their crops fail, the family begins to turn on one another. ‘The Witch’ is a chilling portrait of a family unraveling within their own fears and anxieties, leaving them prey for an inescapable evil.

Release Date:  TBD 2016

Thoughts: Looking like a nice mix of The Crucible and the finer points of The Village, this first trailer for The Witch is damn creepy.  Even pushing 2 ½ minutes the preview keeps the movies secrets close to its chest, relying on visuals and a creepy voice over narration to grab the viewer and induce a nice trill of goosebumps up your spine.  Admittedly, even the worst movie can look great based on the trailer and it seems nearly every non franchise horror film bears the “scariest movie of the year” moniker…but I’m hoping that The Witch lives up to the hype and good buzz it found at the Sundance Film Festival.