Some Great Movies from 2021 (So Far)

I had this round-up of great movies from 2021 so far all lined up to be out by June 30. And then WA was hit with a snap lockdown again for the third time this year.

Took all the energy out. I don’t think anyone can confidently be positive of where Australia is right now.

But let’s try, shall we?

I’ve seen some great movies this year and just haven’t been able to write about them for whatever reason. Let’s celebrate cinema!

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Kristen Wiig as “Star” and Annie Mumolo as “Barb” in BARB & STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR


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It feels like an age has passed since a completely ridiculous comedy came out that was so profoundly absurd and assured of its own stupidity that it completely wins you over. Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar was that film in fantastic fashion.

The movie stars and was written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo and is about Barb & Star (Mumolo is Barb, Wiig is Star) who are two middle-aged long-time friends from Nebraska who leave their dead-end jobs for a sudden trip to the tropical Floridian isle of Vista Del Mar. However, their holiday is interrupted by Austin Powers-style supervillain Sharon Fisherman (also Kristen Wiig) who plots her revenge against Vista Del Mar and sends out her henchman Edgar (Jamie Dornan) as a point man to engage her evil plans.

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar is such a wild mix of plot points and influences inside a comedy that it might give you whiplash. It mixes the Austin Powers silliness and storyline with Judd Apatow-style honesty about sexuality. Oh, and it’s also a semi-musical. If you can find yourself getting on the movie’s wavelength, then you’re in for a hilarious ride. Director Josh Greenbaum (in his directorial debut) keeps things tight and focused, the movie rarely feeling like it’s dipping into excess or having jokes go on for far too long. Mainstream comedies can too often feel like two actors riffing with each other while a plot aimlessly shambles on behind them. Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar is a genre comedy so it has something to actually do between jokes. Even the improvisational nature of modern comedy is used as Barb and Star’s greatest strength, that they will often go on long-winded tangents with each other about absolutely nothing, which enables them to be the most positive and enlightening people to take on some megalomaniac.

Wiig and Mumolo are fantastic together, but it might just be Jamie Dornan stealing the film every chance he can get. Everyone brings the perfect energy, Toby Oliver’s lighting and framing is rather spectacular, and the tone is perfectly executed. Maybe it’s too silly or maybe its reliance on repetition will be tedious, but I thoroughly enjoyed laughing carefree with this movie. Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar is a bold and euphoric comedy that you just might need to ease your troubles.

Stowaway

Shamier Anderson and Anna Kendrick in STOWAWAY


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Stowaway is a Netflix science-fiction thriller directed and co-written by Joe Penna (Arctic) that stars an ensemble of Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, and Toni Collette who play astronauts on a two-year mission to Mars. 12 hours after the crew’s departure, they encounter a stowaway aboard, played by Shamier Anderson. The man has accidentally ended up on the craft, which is dealt with at first by getting him accustomed to life and work about the craft, but a serious problem arises: the mission’s oxygen and supplies were designed for only three people.

Stowaway poses a serious moral question for our main characters: what will you do to survive? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one? How does one determine the important of one life over another.

With a deft hand and a remarkable showcase of performances from a great cast, Stowaway kept me thoroughly engaged and entertained in the best ways that science-fiction-thriller movies can.

I can find myself being constantly disappointed with Netflix movies, but Stowaway had something else, something interesting and something I wanted to see played out in an intellectual and insightful fashion. You need to make a leap of logic to get over how an aerospace could go missing for 12 hours on the day of a big launch and no one rings an alarm bell, but once you do, the journey is worth it.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Maya Rudolph as “Linda Mitchell”, Abbi Jacobson as “Katie Mitchell”, Mike Rianda as “Aaron Mitchell”, Doug the Pug as “Monchi” and Danny McBride as “Rick Mitchell” in THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES


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This is, so-far, my favourite film of 2021.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is directed and co-written by Mike Rianda (Gravity Falls), with Jeff Rowe as co-writer and produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and has the voices of Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph and Rianda himself as the Mitchells (daughter Katie, father Rick, mother Linda, and son Aaron), a completely dysfunctional family facing the end of humanity at the hands of a rampaging tech army.

Yes, of course technology shouldn’t be completely running our lives and if we let mega-corporations dictate our day-to-day functions as people, we’re doomed.

But Rianda’s film doesn’t just settle for this surface-level theme. Katie Mitchell is a young filmmaker who makes bizarre art through simple technology, and her father just doesn’t understand it. There is a middle ground of understanding between young and old, new and traditional. We are given a fantastic story of family that resonates deeply with those who know their family is not like anyone else’s and how that is a beautiful thing.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a delirious animated extravaganza that never ceases to be as insane and wholly original as possible. Rendered in that fantastic 2½-D style that make Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse glorious to behold, this film also goes one step further by having what the filmmakers have dubbed “Katie-vision” where random crude animations will overlay the images, as if the character has gone in and made the movie herself.

The attention to detail and extraordinary humour on display is something special, and the voice cast across the board is perfect (although I could’ve done without Chrissy Teigen and John Legend) The Mitchells vs. the Machines had me crying from laughter and genuine happiness at seeing something so excellently put-together and uniquely creative. As I said, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is currently my favourite film of 2021 and I hope that remains at the end of the year. I doubt any other film this year will have a Mega-Furbie with laser breath like Godzilla.

Minamata

Johnny Depp as W. Eugene Smith in MINAMATA


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Minamata is directed by Andrew Levitas, screenplay by David Kessler, and based on the photo essay by W. Eugene and Aileen Mioko Smith. Johnny Depp stars as Eugene, a photographer for Life magazine in 1971 who is tasked by Minami Hinase’s Aileen to journey with her to the Japanese city of Minamata and document the effects of Minamata disease caused by water pollution from chemical plant Chisso.

This story is real and the effects are still seen today. Andrew Levitas’ film not only shines an important light on a moment of social injustice against corporate greed that took a hold of hundreds if not thousands of Japanese people, but fits into a terrible pattern of modern history of manmade destruction of innocent lives. The end credits show example after example of pollution and disaster directly caused by unnatural chemicals and interruptions of the planet. It is horrifying and it is not stopping.

Not only is Johnny Depp delivering a more commanding performance than he’s given in half a decade, but the role itself demands more of him as an actor and I’m personally grateful for that. The supporting cast is mostly made of incredible Japanese actors including Hiroyuki Sanada, who almost take the entire spotlight away from Depp and lead the charge this story of powerful resistance against injustice.

Benoît Delhomme’s cinematography is extraordinary, not only capturing everything in perfect light but masterfully recreating the famous photos that Eugene Smith shot. I can confess that might not have been as positive on this film had it not been for Ryuichi Sakamoto’s exemplary score. I am a massive fan of the Japanese maestro and his work in this film lifts everything to soaring emotional heights.

Minamata can fall into areas of predictability, the pacing leaves much to be desired, and W. Eugene Smith’s characterisation is probably not entirely accurate. However, through its flaws shines a remarkable intention to do justice to this overlooked reality of pain and suffering that ripped through a community of peaceful villagers. Minimata has power and purpose that leaves one feeling inspired to speak out more against greed and corruption that plagues our society to this day.

Shiva Baby

Rachel Sennott as Danielle in SHIVA BABY


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Shiva Baby comes from writer and director Emma Seligman (in her directorial debut) and stars Rachel Sennott as Danielle, a young woman who is keeping many secrets from her devout and smothering Jewish parents Joel (Fred Melamed) and Debbie (Polly Draper), particularly that she has turned to being a “sugar baby” to a man named Max (Danny Deferrari). She has to attend a shiva (basically a Jewish funeral wake), where she is accosted, in real-time, by the prying eyes and ears of family, friends, ex-lover Maya (Molly Gordon), and the sudden arrival of Max, his wife Kim (Dianna Agron) and their screaming baby Rosie.

Emma Seligman is a twisted genius. As I mentioned, Shiva Baby takes place in real-time in this one cramped location filled with over-involved Jewish family members of a young woman whose life is in complete disarray and things only get worse as each minute passes, so the tension is truly unbearable at times.

Shiva Baby dives headlong into using “cringe comedy” to ilicit a constant nauseous effect from the audience. Every twisted situation that arises where Danielle’s secrets might be unleashed to the judgement of her entire extended family makes you want to swallow your own teeth or bury yourself inside your own skin. How Seligman constructs this spine-chilling tension through the simplest of actions and plot-points, helped with terrific effect by Ariel Marx’ horror-esque score, is a thing of beauty.

Seligman’s script and her direction also allows for such situations to never feel forced or unnatural. She has a tremendous ability to create all of this as if it is plucked from your very worst nightmare or that one memory of something regretful you once said 10 years ago that every so often comes back to totally unhinge your sense of normalcy. Rachel Sennott gives a fantastic performance channelling this flawed character who only sees her actions as regretful because others tell her so. Seligman doesn’t judge Danielle as a lost sinner. Danielle is just a woman in today’s times: burdened with expectations and deserving of personal freedom no matter how messy it really is.

Shiva Baby plays like a horror comedy without a single far-fetched element in it, is photographed extraordinarily by Hanna A. Park even with such a limited space to use, and gives us a well-constructed and thoroughly believable, messy as it may be, relationship between Danielle and Maya, thanks completely to Sennott and Gordon’s chemistry. Before the release of The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Shiva Baby was my favourite film of 2021, but a close second so far is not bad at all. If you’re in for an equally hilarious and chilling 78-minute rollercoaster of unbearable awkwardness, then I cannot recommend Shiva Baby enough.

Shiva Baby is in cinemas from July 29.

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