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Joey’s Home Movies For the Week of December 13th – ‘The Card Counter’ Dukes It Out With ‘The Mitchells vs The Machines’ in ‘The Last Duel’

Focus Features
Focus Features

Welcome back to my Home Movies! Today, we have a pretty excellent slate to get into, led by The Card Counter and The Last Duel. Joining the fray this week also are Language Lessons and The Mitchells vs The Machines, plus plenty of other titles. Read on for more…

Joey’s Top Pick

Focus Features

The Card Counter

As much as Paul Schrader‘s First Reformed did very little for me, The Card Counter enthralled me. Oscar Isaac is hypnotic and the slow burn of this character study/thriller is an indie joy. Reactions were divided, but this one worked for me in a big way. It’s not for everyone, but I do recommend it. Here is a bit from my review:

The Card Counter is plenty dark, but there are bits of light that shine through. Hypnotic from start to finish, you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen, even if you have suspicions. With a terrific lead role and a constant curiosity, Schrader keeps you on the edge of your seat, slowly building tension as he’s so prone to do.

Recommended Viewing

20th Century Studios

The Last Duel

Ridley Scott does this sort of epic as well as anyone else. With a lusty Ben Affleck stealing the show, The Last Duel turned out way better than almost anyone expected. What could have been an outright disaster turned instead into a movie with a lot to say, if one that was unfortunately ignored by paying audiences. In my review of the film, I included this bit:

On paper, The Last Duel should be a massive misfire. A Fourteenth Century set epic that takes on the #MeToo movement? Especially one largely made by men? Sure, that’ll work. In fact, this film probably should have been a spectacular disaster. Instead, the movie has a deft point to make, one that it hammers home with lucidity by the end. In serving as a vivid reminder that men were also trash way back in the Dark Ages, this is a largely successful work. Mixing a critique of toxic masculinity with period-set action may have been a risky high-wire act, but The Last Duel manages to pull it off. That alone is worthy of some attention.

The Last Duel isn’t perfect, but it works far more often than it doesn’t. Especially when you consider Ridley Scott‘s age, the fact that he’s as engaged here as he is (which isn’t always the case), is pretty impressive. His steady hand allows the film to navigate some tricky material. Believe me, too, this material is very tricky. Whereas other filmmakers might have let the movie go off the rails, and in other projects, Scott has even been guilty of that, but here, that’s decidedly not the case.

Shout!

Language Lessons

One of the year’s smallest but most charming flicks, Language Lessons speaks to our time in a very profound way. I spoke to co-star and co-writer Mark Duplass here about the movie, and any excuse to talk to him is a good one. He and Natalie Morales are aces as is the flick overall. My SXSW review included the following:

Language Lessons is a two-hander, essentially. Aside from maybe two other characters, one of whom we don’t even see, it’s all about our two leads. So, the movie absolutely needs to invest you in the pair of them. Luckily, it’s an undisputed success there, with some terrific acting, a charming screenplay, and an emotional heft that may well take you by surprise.

Also Available This Week

Netflix

Manifest: Season Three (TV)

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

South of Heaven

Undine

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

The Wolf of Wall Street (on 4K)

Criterion Corner

Criterion

The Learning Tree

From The Criterion Collection: “With this tender and clear-eyed coming-of-age odyssey, the renowned photographer turned filmmaker Gordon Parks not only became the first Black American director to make a Hollywood studio film, he also served as writer, producer, and composer, resulting in a deeply personal artistic achievement. Based on Parks’s own semi-autobiographical novel, The Learning Tree follows the journey of Newt Winger, a teenage descendant of Exodusters growing up in rural Kansas in the 1920s, as he experiences the bittersweet flowering of first love, finds his relationship with a close friend tested, and navigates the injustices embedded within racist legal and educational systems. Exquisitely capturing the bucolic splendor of its setting, this landmark film tempers nostalgia with an incisive understanding of the harsh realities, hard-won lessons, and often wrenching moral choices that shape the road to self-determination of the young Black man at its center.”

Criterion

The Red Shoes

From The Criterion Collection: “The Red Shoes, the singular fantasia from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is cinema’s quintessential backstage drama, as well as one of the most glorious Technicolor feasts ever concocted for the screen. Moira Shearer is a rising star ballerina torn between an idealistic composer and a ruthless impresario intent on perfection. Featuring outstanding performances, blazingly beautiful cinematography by Jack Cardiff, Oscar-winning sets and music, and an unforgettable, hallucinatory central dance sequence, this beloved classic, dazzlingly restored, stands as an enthralling tribute to the life of the artist.”

Stay tuned for more next week…

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Written by Joey Magidson

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