Movies of the Week #20 #21 (2020)

The Matrix (1999): God, it’s been a minute, hasn’t it? Nobody on Tik Tok was alive when this movie saw its release 21 years ago. Thankfully, The Matrix fares well against the test of time, even if the spectacular visuals have since been outmatched. For the most part, in particular the first half of the movie, it’s a high concept Sci-Fi, a grim metaphor for our routine existence in the machine – that’s when it’s not prophesizing in pseudo philosophical ways about fate and becoming or offering up a lackluster romance. But these complaints aside, The Matrix remains a cool ride, with a great antagonist and more than one reference to have gained a place in the folklore of movie quotes. 9/10

The Lion King (2019): Watching this visually lush, faithful adaptation of a classic is similar to meeting an old flame – it might seem enjoyable familiar, but it just doesn’t compare to what it used to feel like. This new Lion King falters in its grittiness and the half-an-hour added run-time doesn’t really add anything. In what the original could get away with narratively, because it was briskly paced and didn’t brood as much, Jon Favreau’s re-imaging comes up short. It’s a shame, because while the cinematic package is…neat and there are a few highlights beyond the visuals, like Seth Rogen’s Pumbaa, there is really no reason to suggest watching this over the 1994 version. 6/10

Bad Education (2019): A classic true story of manipulation and deceit, the unbelievable embezzlement scandal at the Roslyn High School, featuring superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman), is a well executed, if not particularly groundbreaking movie. Jackman is a real star in this and inhabits the various shades of grey in his character skillfully, as the script questions the structure of a society where those who teach and form the children of the 1% (or thereabouts) are left wanting. Then again, wanting is a state of mind, isn’t it? From Cory Finley, the director of Thoroughbreds, this never sizzles, but it does entertain. 7/10

The Mule (2018): Eastwood is turning 90 at the end of the month, so the fact that he’s still acting/directing movies is remarkable to begin with. Of course, The Mule isn’t a riveting piece of art, but it’s an enjoyable redemption story with the man himself offering a charismatic lead. Perhaps the most unusual bit about it is how much it humanizes and relates to the drug cartel, seemingly just a group of chill, reasonable people going about their slightly illegal business. Frustratingly, director Eastwood doesn’t get the pacing quite right, which would have turned The Mule into a more memorable affair, especially given the star power behind it. 7/10

The Assistant (2019): There are times when The Assistant feels like it could be a Soderberghian classic. And then there are more times when it’s fatigued, in spite of being a mere 87 minutes long. After a few well received documentaries, director-writer Kitty Green proposes this story of a young assistant, Jane (Doe, if you will), who works for some big-shot executive. The job is supposed to be an unglamorous first step in a career towards producing for young Jane, but the abuse, the toxic masculinity, the parade of young girls said executive seems to use for sexual gratification (when does that man even work?) are beyond unglamorous. The point of it all is to stay in this gray zone, lacking drama and impetus, to be soul-killing, but it never gets exciting or introspective enough to warrant your full attention. And that’s in spite of a very inspired performance from lead Julia Garner. 6/10