After her father is arrested by the Taliban, a young girl must pretend to be a boy if she wants to support her family.
Directed by Nora Twohey
Starring Saara Taudrey, Soma Bhatia, and Kawa Ada
Review by Jon Kissel
I’m as big a fan of Pixar as anybody, but there’s something about the opaque nature of creating computer graphics that makes the iconic studio’s style of animation somewhat less impressive. I have no doubt there’s a level of craftmanship in turning all those one’s and zero’s into photorealistic water or curly red hair, but I can’t help preferring the stop-motion of Laika and Wes Anderson’s pair of animated movies or the hand-drawn elegance of Studio Ghibli and Cartoon Saloon. Movies from these studios inspire the viewer to momentarily step back and marvel at the amount of finely-tuned labor that went into a single frame. Cartoon Saloon’s The Breadwinner has several of these moments within it, but it doesn’t subsist on visual awe though there’s plenty of it. Studio co-founder Nora Twohey’s film leaves behind the Ireland of Cartoon Saloon’s earlier Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea for Talbian-ruled Afghanistan and a desperate story of survival under tyranny whose charm isn’t lost in spite of its dire setting.
I’ve now seen two John Lee Hancock movies but I suspect that I know exactly what the rest are like: earnest performances from actors in inoffensive packages. Unmemorable scores, Americana, fundamentally conservative. That’s always been my impression of The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks. The Alamo is the kind of movie a bored history teacher would show his class. My mom loves The Rookie (nuff said), and The Highwayman was only notable because it was about the cops who chased down Bonnie and Clyde, in opposition to the classic film that followed the robbers and heralded the beginning of Hollywood’s last golden age. Football, baseball, Disney, pop history, and Texas Rangers are all boxes for Hancock to tick on his USA bingo card, and with The Founder, fast food gets inked out, too. I eagerly await his future work about Levi Strauss, the digging of the Erie Canal, and Pecos Bill.
The films of Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda typically contain no drama at all. In something like Our Little Sister or Still Walking, he makes the equivalent of TV hangout sitcoms where he organically clues the viewer in to various dynamics and watches as the characters visit a graveyard or prepare a complicated dish. Not every film has to have physical stakes, and his often don’t. I’ve seen about half of Koreeda’s films and Shoplifters has the highest stakes, by far. There’s a constant risk of discovery in the central family-ish unit, and Koreeda has called Shoplifters his ‘socially conscious’ entry. One can’t make a political point without some kind of conflict, and Shoplifters certainly has that. It also has what makes Koreeda such a notable filmmaker i.e. a realistic adherence to workaday life that still allows for the possibility of beauty to enter at any moment.
Feel-good racial brotherhood story Green Book has been showered with adulation by the Oscars, but it’s also generated its share of controversy. In this adaptation, or purported adaptation, of a true story, interested parties have gone to war over what was included and intimated, while cultural critics wonder whether one more pat reconciliation tale between a black man and a racist white man has any place in present times, a decades-old concern that’s been pitched every time a film posits that racism can be solved by proximity and friendliness. Underneath all these questions about who gets to tell whose story and the value of catering to an audience permanently receptive to easy answers lies a son who wants to pass on an interesting thing that happened to his father, and, less compellingly, a former director of raunchy comedies wanting to move into awards contending cinema. Green Book’s one of those films where the conversation around it is more interesting than the utterly average film itself.
Steven Soderbergh gave a speech in 2013 about the state of cinema, and what he interpreted as a dire future for the art form. Directors like him who operated in the mid-budget range were being squeezed out in favor of micro-budget horror and macro-budget spectacle, trends that haven’t abated in the last five years. If a studio didn’t envision a narrow, Academy-friendly path forward for a film that wasn’t either of those, it wasn’t going to get made, or if it was, it was going to be dumped and disrespected and kept away from wider audiences. In the time since that speech, Soderbergh has been the visual master behind a best-of-the-decade prestige drama series, experienced the exact mid-budget underperformance that he talked about, and gone experimental to conform to the low end of the budget continuum, namely shooting two movies on an iPhone. The first, Unsane, did marginally well in theaters, but the second, High Flying Bird, skipped theaters altogether and went straight to Netflix, the studio equivalent of HBO at the dawn of the Golden Age of Television such that they throw money at creators and take a big step back. Soderbergh is a director who thinks clearly and publicly about his next moves and how they fit within the framework of his industry, making him the perfect director to bring High Flying Bird into the world because it’s about someone very much like him.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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