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Watch family pug Doug play De Niro to Katie’s Scorsese

2021’s finest: The Mitchells vs. the Machines and The Hand of God

The Mitchells vs the Machines: Columbia's ocean of animated gems.
The Mitchells vs the Machines: Columbia's ocean of animated gems.

My first entry for 2022 was originally intended for another trio of last year’s leftovers. But my steed blew a flat before making it to the finish line of The Green Knight. One can only deconstruct a narrative so much before it breaks down entirely, and this slow moving merry-go-round of banality bucked me at around the one-hour mark. As luck would have it, my next two options proved to be a pair of 2021’s finest: Paolo Sorrentino’s clear-eyed look back on his childhood, and Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe’s cock-eyed and ever-upward animated Shangri-La. Sorrentino’s The Hand of God and how it touched me is but a click ‘o the mouse away. But first, The Mitchells vs the Machine offers children of all ages something to adore.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

When was the last time I gave an animated feature 5 stars? Today! If the Columbia Pictures Torch Lady, squashed-and-stretched into a cartoonish similitude, was any indication, something unique awaited. Only through animation could action as mundane as a family roadtrip to drop sis off at film school give rise to a fresh jolt of wonderment. Mom and dad don’t quite understand the mini-movies their daughter Katie directs — family pug Doug plays De Niro to Katie’s Scorsese — but they’re good enough to land her a seat in the college of her choice. Once tucked firmly inside the pouch, Rianda and Rowe pull taut the rubber band and prepare to give audiences something akin to a slingshot tour through a pinball machine on full tilt. But it turns out there’s nothing worse than a Siri spurned: the jealous droid-friend of the technological wunderkind who designed her seeks revenge by ordering an army of robots to capture and isolate all of humanity inside a honeycomb of loneliness — with free Wi-fi. It’s up to Katie Mitchell to save all humanity from the machine apocalypse, and in doing so, convince a doubting dad that he’s raised a pretty terrific daughter.

The process begins by using one of Katie’s comic book ideas: painting the family vehicle asphalt black with a conforming yellow road stripe down the center to convincingly camouflage the car from above. The satire is as blunt as the imagination is limitless. And the pacifist in me, tired of all the shooting both on and off screen, was pleasantly reminded that legions of robots, primed for the kill, can meet their maker without one drop of blood being shed. If you thought The Incredibles I & II were top flight animated creations, seek help. The Mitchells are as incredible a family as any to hit the old computer generator to date. If nothing else, this cautionary fable should further dialogue between parents and children, lest their faces at the dinner table be forever bathed in a “ghoulish blue” light. Yep, five stars.

The Hand of God (2021)

The camera glides as though an angel on high. A long fluid aerial shot — drones need not apply — darts in and out of artfully telescoping sun flares and back over the water before settling on a Rolls Royce in motion. One would expect nothing less than a bold point of departure from Italy’s ferocious Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo, The Great Beauty). Fans of Fellini’s Amarcord will no doubt revel in the purposeful arrangement of marginal characters staring directly into the passing camera, or Aunt Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri), whose razor-sharp nipples can barely be contained inside her blouse. Everyone has at least one relative whose character is questioned by all and loved by one, and in Fabietto Schisa’s (Filippo Scotti) case, it was his Aunt Patrizia. In spite of (because of?) her nude sunbathing becoming the talk of the family getaway, Patrizia was the one who instilled in Fabietto a belief in miracles.

The Schisas were a nasty lot — the old made fun of the young, the young made fun of the old, and everybody ridiculed the fat. (Even a family acquaintance who speaks through a trach voicebox is ripe for ridicule.) The family of busybodies made it their business to gossip about the neighbors in their middle class apartment complex. The malicious pranksters went so far as to call a neighbor who had no chance of landing the part in the Franco Ziefferilli production she auditioned for, to tell her the starring role was hers. But nothing is more distasteful than when Fabietto makes a quick stop at dad’s office to find his father Saverio (Tony Servillo, a snake-eyed charmer), a proudly-proclaimed communist, confined to a suit and literally working banker’s hours. Legendary soccer star Diego Maradona played a recurring role in Fabietto’s life: it was in his name that the titular grip intervened with a prank of life-altering proportions, sparing the young man from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Before it’s over, Fabietto hooks up with an old friend, the type who’s just dangerous enough not to want to spend time with, but interesting enough that the few times you did hang out stick out in your memory forever. There’s also a director who is introduced by stalking out of a stage performance while loudly informing the lead actress he has seen it all before. He bestows upon the impressionable Fabietto the same advice as generations of fictional directors who came before him (John L. Sullivan, Sandy Bates, etc): “Forget the pain and think about fun, that’s how you’ll make films.” And in the happiest ending of this year, Fabietto turns his back on sports in favor of a seat behind the lens. Bellissima! Four stars.

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The Mitchells vs the Machines: Columbia's ocean of animated gems.
The Mitchells vs the Machines: Columbia's ocean of animated gems.

My first entry for 2022 was originally intended for another trio of last year’s leftovers. But my steed blew a flat before making it to the finish line of The Green Knight. One can only deconstruct a narrative so much before it breaks down entirely, and this slow moving merry-go-round of banality bucked me at around the one-hour mark. As luck would have it, my next two options proved to be a pair of 2021’s finest: Paolo Sorrentino’s clear-eyed look back on his childhood, and Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe’s cock-eyed and ever-upward animated Shangri-La. Sorrentino’s The Hand of God and how it touched me is but a click ‘o the mouse away. But first, The Mitchells vs the Machine offers children of all ages something to adore.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

When was the last time I gave an animated feature 5 stars? Today! If the Columbia Pictures Torch Lady, squashed-and-stretched into a cartoonish similitude, was any indication, something unique awaited. Only through animation could action as mundane as a family roadtrip to drop sis off at film school give rise to a fresh jolt of wonderment. Mom and dad don’t quite understand the mini-movies their daughter Katie directs — family pug Doug plays De Niro to Katie’s Scorsese — but they’re good enough to land her a seat in the college of her choice. Once tucked firmly inside the pouch, Rianda and Rowe pull taut the rubber band and prepare to give audiences something akin to a slingshot tour through a pinball machine on full tilt. But it turns out there’s nothing worse than a Siri spurned: the jealous droid-friend of the technological wunderkind who designed her seeks revenge by ordering an army of robots to capture and isolate all of humanity inside a honeycomb of loneliness — with free Wi-fi. It’s up to Katie Mitchell to save all humanity from the machine apocalypse, and in doing so, convince a doubting dad that he’s raised a pretty terrific daughter.

The process begins by using one of Katie’s comic book ideas: painting the family vehicle asphalt black with a conforming yellow road stripe down the center to convincingly camouflage the car from above. The satire is as blunt as the imagination is limitless. And the pacifist in me, tired of all the shooting both on and off screen, was pleasantly reminded that legions of robots, primed for the kill, can meet their maker without one drop of blood being shed. If you thought The Incredibles I & II were top flight animated creations, seek help. The Mitchells are as incredible a family as any to hit the old computer generator to date. If nothing else, this cautionary fable should further dialogue between parents and children, lest their faces at the dinner table be forever bathed in a “ghoulish blue” light. Yep, five stars.

The Hand of God (2021)

The camera glides as though an angel on high. A long fluid aerial shot — drones need not apply — darts in and out of artfully telescoping sun flares and back over the water before settling on a Rolls Royce in motion. One would expect nothing less than a bold point of departure from Italy’s ferocious Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo, The Great Beauty). Fans of Fellini’s Amarcord will no doubt revel in the purposeful arrangement of marginal characters staring directly into the passing camera, or Aunt Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri), whose razor-sharp nipples can barely be contained inside her blouse. Everyone has at least one relative whose character is questioned by all and loved by one, and in Fabietto Schisa’s (Filippo Scotti) case, it was his Aunt Patrizia. In spite of (because of?) her nude sunbathing becoming the talk of the family getaway, Patrizia was the one who instilled in Fabietto a belief in miracles.

The Schisas were a nasty lot — the old made fun of the young, the young made fun of the old, and everybody ridiculed the fat. (Even a family acquaintance who speaks through a trach voicebox is ripe for ridicule.) The family of busybodies made it their business to gossip about the neighbors in their middle class apartment complex. The malicious pranksters went so far as to call a neighbor who had no chance of landing the part in the Franco Ziefferilli production she auditioned for, to tell her the starring role was hers. But nothing is more distasteful than when Fabietto makes a quick stop at dad’s office to find his father Saverio (Tony Servillo, a snake-eyed charmer), a proudly-proclaimed communist, confined to a suit and literally working banker’s hours. Legendary soccer star Diego Maradona played a recurring role in Fabietto’s life: it was in his name that the titular grip intervened with a prank of life-altering proportions, sparing the young man from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Before it’s over, Fabietto hooks up with an old friend, the type who’s just dangerous enough not to want to spend time with, but interesting enough that the few times you did hang out stick out in your memory forever. There’s also a director who is introduced by stalking out of a stage performance while loudly informing the lead actress he has seen it all before. He bestows upon the impressionable Fabietto the same advice as generations of fictional directors who came before him (John L. Sullivan, Sandy Bates, etc): “Forget the pain and think about fun, that’s how you’ll make films.” And in the happiest ending of this year, Fabietto turns his back on sports in favor of a seat behind the lens. Bellissima! Four stars.

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