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

Movie Review: ‘Hotel Mumbai’ Dramatizes a Massive Tragedy Unflinchingly But With Only Fleeting Insight

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CREDIT: Mark Rogers/Bleecker Street

Starring: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Jason Isaacs, Amandeep Singh

Director: Anthony Maras

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Rating: R for Constant Deadly Gunfire and Plenty of Profanity

Release Date: March 22, 2019 (Limited)

A lot of real-life historical tragedies have been dramatized on screen, but rarely has it felt as exploitative as it does in Hotel Mumbai. Part of that is due to the deadly nature of the attacks, in which hundreds of people were killed or injured by explosives and gunfire, often at close range. It is also attributable to director Anthony Maras’ decision to show so many of the deaths in graphic, bloody detail. The 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that culminated at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel were indeed quite terrifying, but what does this dramatization illuminate besides reminding us that tragedies like this one have happened and that they are often fueled by religious extremism?

If there is to be anything valuable on offer here, it would presumably be about forging some sort of connection with the characters. And on that score, there are people that I care about and are rooting to make it out alive, but their stories are not especially unique. Among those with the most fully fleshed-out arcs, there is the guest (Armie Hammer) who is trying to protect his family, the hotel employee (Dev Patel) who is trying to make it home to his family, and the head chef (Anupam Kher) who rises up as a leader and comforter. These roles are well-acted, and some (if not all) are surely based on real people, but their stories do not say much beyond, “This is how certain people react to trauma.” But among the perpetrators (all young men who look to be in their early twenties) there is Imran (Amandeep Singh), who starts to question what he is fighting for as the mission drags on. That is where the real, complicated story is at, but alas, his personal crisis only gets a handful of moments, leaving Hotel Mumbai an endurance test without much to mentally grapple with after making it through.

Hotel Mumbai is Recommended If You Like: Witnessing trauma

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Casualties

This Is a Movie Review: Lion

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Why did Lion not get a full wide release right from the get-go? It’s an insanely inspiring true-life story about the triumph of the human spirit and love knowing no geographical bounds. This is the sort of story that people want to see! When you tell me, “Saroo Brierley got lost as a boy on a train in India and couldn’t find his way home, but 20 years later, after being adopted by an Australian couple, he finds his way back with the help of Google Earth,” what do I say? Just point and shoot! Well, don’t just point and shoot. Throw in some cinematic style as well, as we’ve already been inspired plenty of times. Like maybe include some flashbacks and subjective POV shots to indicate that Saroo’s family continues to walk alongside him even as they are no longer physically there. Yeah, that’ll do.

I give Lion 1 Tear for Fear, and 19 Tears for Joy.