Spring 2021 – Week 3 in Review

4 months ago 60

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. I’ve got a bit of an odd selection for you all this week, as a fair amount of my standard movie-watching time was once again consumed by One Piece. I am loving the heck out of One Piece, but I’m also noticing a problem developing here – given my amount of free time, the show is more or less functionally infinite, so I’ll have to find a better way of managing my watch schedule. Still, having a pile of Chimera Ant-scale arcs in my future is a nice feeling; it’s been some time since I felt this much natural incentive to plow through an anime, so I’m cherishing the feeling, and letting it serve as a reminder that plenty of great shows are still hiding out there. I’ll find you, great shows! Just listen to the sound of my voice, or… no, no, I’ll come to you. Just wait right there!

Anyway, the Week in Review.

First up this week was Jason and the Argonauts, a 1963 film renowned for its fanciful stop-motion animation. In it, Greek hero Jason is sent on a task to retrieve the Golden Fleece, and weathers a series of epic trials featuring harpies, colossi, and a variety of other beasties. The film possesses a charming old Hollywood energy, with lots of scenery-chewing performances and even an extended dance number, but the highlights are undoubtedly Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion creations. 

Maybe it’s just because I remember watching similar stop-motion films as a child, but there’s something inherently nostalgic about seeing heroes marvel in awe and fear as claymation giants bear down upon them. The staggered movements of Harryhausen’s monsters possess a strange, menacing energy; watching a statue turn to accuse them is genuinely unsettling, and the final battle is a delightfully choreographed melee between teams of humans and animated skeletons. Jason and the Argonauts is a little rough around the edges, but if you can embrace the inherent limitations of a “special effects spectacle” from 1963, it’s an engaging fantasy journey.

After that, we checked out Nobody, the new John Wick-like starring Bob Odenkirk. I’ve been waiting for this one basically since it was announced, when I was first delighted by the stunt casting audacity of framing Odenkirk as a grizzled action star. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Odenkirk is a terrific actor – hilarious without effort, and so talented as a dramatic star that it’s aggravating it took until Breaking Bad for him to really get noticed. But “macho Taken-style action movie with the guy from Mr. Show” felt like a pitch developed by an algorithm gone berserk, so I pretty much had to see this bizarre creation for myself.

Unfortunately, Nobody turned out to be probably the worst thing it could be: just pretty okay. It’s not an absolute disaster, but it also lacks much distinguishing character, utterly failing to escape John Wick’s long shadow. Odenkirk is good, as you’d expect; the man is more than talented enough to sell his wilting family man/former killer double act, and his action scenes possess a desperate, street-fight ugliness that really see him throwing his body around. But the script has little to offer beyond genre cliches, with no memorable characters to speak of, and no twists in the “you’ve messed with the wrong crowd this time, Bob Wick” formula. With similarly anemic visual and aural design, Odenkirk basically has to carry the film on his shoulders, resulting in a frustratingly underwhelming experience. I wanted this to be great or terrible, not just generally functional!

We also continued our journey through Cartoon Saloon’s oeuvre, finishing off their Irish folklore trilogy with the utterly outstanding Song of the Sea. I mentioned while discussing The Secret of Kells how the animation style felt like a natural result of the film’s resource limitations; characters frequently moved like cut paper models with few points of articulation, creating an inherent jerkiness in their movement. For Song of the Sea, all such jerkiness has been replaced by gorgeous, morphing fluidity, and character acting so clear and expressive that the mute heroine’s feelings are always painfully clear. And beyond its beautiful animation, Song of the Sea also tells a story that hit me more sharply than either of the studio’s other films; a story defined not by threatening external forces, but by the natural frictions of family and grief.

Song of the Sea’s protagonists are Ben and Saoirse, the children of a lighthouse keeper who fell in love with a selkie. The film doesn’t try to hide that fact; the drama isn’t built of mystery here, but of miscommunication and loss, as both children attempt to deal with their mother’s absence and father’s distance in their own way. Though it’s never spoken aloud, Ben clearly resents his sister for his mother’s absence, while Saoirse is simply desperate for a place where she is welcome, and can truly express herself. Over the course of the film, the pair of them tumble through forced dislocation and magical transformation and Ghibli-esque witch’s cottages, the quiet grief of their loss always hanging above, sharpening Ben’s cruelty and diminishing Saoirse’s voice.

Song of the Sea is certainly not the easiest watch, but it’s so, so beautiful, and its characters possess a sharpness and sadness that truly bring them to life. As a story explicitly about grief, its narrative hit close to home for me, illustrating the tensions that separate us in the wake of unbearable loss, and the ways we come to terms with missing a part of ourselves. It’s my favorite kind of fantasy; just a dash sprinkled around the edges of true experience, finding magic in the mundane, like a flower determinedly sprouting through pavement. After watching all three of Cartoon Saloon’s films, I’m eager for whatever they create next – but Song of the Sea is already a personal favorite, and a film I’ll surely be returning to for years to come.

And of course, there was plenty more One Piece, as I finished off the rest of Skypiea, and the crew earned some well-earned relaxation over a series of smaller islands. One Piece’s appeal “at rest” feels like yet another reflection of what an exemplary shonen it is. Normally, shonens are defined by perpetual motion – there’s always the next stage, next conflict, next battle to drive the characters (and audience) forward, giving us a material incentive to watch the next episode. And though One Piece frequently is driven by ambitious, propulsive narratives, it’s also perfectly capable of driving engagement without any of that, because it’s simply fun spending time with the straw hat pirates.

My pithy description of One Piece as “K-On! at sea” has held up pretty well so far. Just watching the crew bounce off each other is engagement enough, with their complementary personalities, and Oda’s knack for both visual and conversational wit, keeping things persistently entertaining. Outside of something like Hunter x Hunter, I’m used to shonen characters being archetypes who enable fight scenes, not people I genuinely care about – at best, I expect them to just be cool and shallow like in Bleach, rather than obnoxious and shallow like in Demon Slayer. One Piece’s characters riff off each other, take sides in petty squabbles, and generally act in ways that go just a touch beyond “here is character executing character conceit,” making both them and the audience feel that much closer. As someone who’s rarely thrilled by fight scenes themselves, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me how One Piece gained such broad popular appeal – in this show, everything around the fight scenes is just as good, if not better, than the actual battles.

Read Entire Article