Wow, ‘The Green Knight’ Sure Might Knock Your Head Loose

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The Green Knight (CREDIT: Eric Zachanowich/A24)

Starring: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, Ralph Ineson, Erin Kellyman

Director: David Lowery

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: R for Violence and a Little Bit of Sex Within a Fantastical Swirl

Release Date: July 30, 2021 (Theaters)

My experience of watching The Green Knight was just moment after moment that had me going, “I was not expecting THAT.” It starts off pretty quickly that way: Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) beheads the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), but the Green Knight keeps right on talking. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that. If you’re familiar with the source material, this inciting incident won’t be surprising at all, but for the rest of us, it won’t exactly feel telegraphed. Then there’s the fact that this tale takes place around Christmas, which certainly surprised me as well. Although perhaps it shouldn’t have, considering that “green” is in the title and much of the poster is bright red. But other than that, this movie doesn’t feel very Christmas-y. Though I suppose that centuries ago the holiday was celebrated differently. (“Why not have a release date in December instead of July?,” I wonder out loud.)

The poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight sits at a weird place in terms of cultural recognizability. It’s part of Arthurian legend, which is among the most enduringly popular mythologies in the English language. But this particular tale isn’t typically told in the most well-known adaptations. If you’re a fan of the likes of Camelot, The Sword in the Stone, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you might be familiar with the name “Gawain,” but his encounter with a tricky tree-man hybrid could be totally undiscovered. It’s a trip to first encounter it via David Lowery’s highly stylized and uncompromising vision.

I’m willing to bet my sword that anyone who has read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight before seeing this movie also found themselves saying multiple times, “I was not expecting THAT.” (But they would have been saying it while reading.) There’s no way in Camelot that Lowery can take all the credit for every fantastical twist of gamesmanship and illogic. What is the Green Knight’s deal anyway? When he gets beheaded, he insists that Gawain must come find him one year hence to meet a similar fate. Is this a test of honor, and if so, how? I was not expecting that much confusion.

But it kept coming! Was Alicia Vikander playing two different characters? She must have been, as her personalities were so vastly different. I was not expecting such vagueness with her identity. Nor was I expecting an up-close shot of a very intimate moment. The mature themes and capriciousness in a medieval fantasy aren’t surprises in and of themselves, but their presentation in this version were a lot more surreal than I was prepared for. I’m still processing what I’ve witnessed, and I’m not sure that process will ever be complete, but I appreciate the singularity of the vision.

The Green Knight is Recommended If You Like: Embracing the weirdest and most inscrutable elements of mythology

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Beheadings

This Is a Movie Review: The Old Man & the Gun

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CREDIT: Eric Zachanowich/Twentieth Century Fox

Some people cannot help themselves, incorrigibly escaping from prison and robbing banks forevermore. Well, at least one person was like that. Actually, there have been plenty of career criminals in human history. But “incorrigible” usually isn’t the right word to describe most of them. It is, however, a perfect fit for Forrest Tucker, who was known for charming the heck out of bank tellers as he flashed his gun at them.

There are the singular characters like Tucker, and then there are the weavers of tales like David Lowery, who writes and directs Tucker’s story in The Old Man & the Gun. He wisely casts Robert Redford as the ultimate Robert Redford-type and commissions Daniel Hart to craft a breezy, jazzy score, and it all makes for a perfectly fine way to transport yourself for an afternoon.

I give The Old Man & the Gun 20 Diner Dates out of 25 Prison Escapes.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘A Ghost Story’ Has Intriguing Metaphysical Ideas But Mostly Just Tests My Patience

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck

Director: David Lowery

Running Time: 87 Minutes

Rating: R for the Cause of Death (Though Most of the Content is Quite Mild)

Release Date: July 7, 2017 (Limited)

If you have heard of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story in passing, chances are you know one of two things about it: 1) the titular ghost is rendered by someone wearing a bedsheet with cutout eyeholes, and 2) Rooney Mara eats an entire pie for about 10 minutes straight. The former sounds dumb but is actually kind of charming, while the latter sounds like an admirable bit of anti-cinema but is actually representative of everything wrong with this movie.

The setup is notably (perhaps fascinatingly) bare-bones: a young couple, presumably married, listed in the credits as “M” (Rooney Mara) and “C” (Casey Affleck), move into an idyllic suburban house. C dies in a car accident and then awakens in the morgue as the sheet-ghost. He returns home and meets another sheet-ghost next door. He keeps an eye on M and occasionally throws some books off the shelf. She eventually moves out, presumably due to grief or maybe because of the supernatural goings-on (hardly anything is concretely explained). He sticks around and meets the new residents, haunting them a bit but mostly just observing them. Ultimately Lowery makes it clear that his conception of ghosts is not bound by the normal rules of time, as a temporal loop allows C to experience anew his and M’s entire relationship, with a few detours along the way.

A Ghost Story has an interesting metaphysical perspective, with its version of the afterlife steeped in feeling as much as ideas. It offers some rewards if you meditate over it, but actually watching it is a slog. The dialogue is sparse, and the action leads nowhere, which is not necessarily a problem if the aim is to be sensuously experiential. And in fairness, Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematography is pretty to look at, but not so extraordinary that it can justify a movie that mostly just stands still. A film’s purpose does not need to be obvious, but it is preferable if it feels like something more significant than “we just felt like it.”

A Ghost Story is Recommended If You Like: Endlessly Ruminating

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Pies