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“Raya and the Last Dragon”

“Raya and the Last Dragon” (in theaters and for rent on Disney+). So many recent Disney animated films have been about “girl power”—smart, sassy, brave young women, the total opposite of the long ago softer, waiting-for-a-prince heroines that defined Disney for a couple of generations. It’s a sound business policy, of course, as girls and young women have a lot of buying power. Could it also be a less cut-and-dried decision, one based on a desire to bolster the current zeitgeist, a time of more and more female empowerment? In any case, this one’s a highly enjoyable, colorful film. The mythological setting is an ancient Asian land, a tale of a once-unified people, protected by magical dragons. When the dragons were eradicated by monsters, the people gradually became four warring tribes. Raya’s father, one of the four rulers, very much wants to bring about reunification but his efforts are met with resistance, until Raya and a playful blue dragon take over. The story, the dialogue, the voicework and animation are all of the highest caliber. Not only are the visuals imaginative and gorgeous but there are life lessons to be learned about trust and selflessness and taking chances. I recommend it for all ages, unless you’re a hopeless cynic. In fact, as soon as you feel safe, see it in a theater with your family, all generations, as I did last week. My son, his children and I went to a theater that took excellent precautions, sold seats far apart in twos, and masks were required (unless eating popcorn, of course). Damn, it felt good to be back where I belong: at the movies.

 

“Promising Young Woman” (for sale and rent on Prime) is a promising film with a timely theme and plot idea, a superb performance by Carrie Mulligan as a medical school dropout and an excellent supporting cast, especially Bo Burnham and Alison Brie as former schoolmates. The basic premise is that most men will behave badly, given the chance, and Mulligan’s character, Cassie, traumatized by the rape and suicide of her best friend, is out to prove it. There are twists and turns, comedy and drama, but somehow, the film remains surface-y and never quite follows through on its revenge theme. Mulligan bravely delves as deeply as she can into a character who is basically a sociopath with a righteous cause, but I was left with a sense of a slightly different, darker film that wanted to be made, but which was, in the end, backed away from.

 

“ZeroZeroZero” (Prime) is classified as a crime drama, which usually means there’s a good or semi-good guy or gal trying to solve some sort of mystery. In this case, it really is a crime drama because the only people whom we’ve met in the first two of eight episodes are criminals—more specifically, high-end criminals who deal in the millions, even billions, to be made in the international drug trade. It is a violent, bloody, nasty show—not my usual taste at all—and I am totally hooked. I plan to watch two more episodes a night for the next three nights so I can get it out of my system. Why am I hooked, you ask? Several reasons: It is brilliantly written and acted by a multinational cast; it is filmed with impeccable attention to detail and the most exquisite panoramas of the Italian coastline and Mexico and New Orleans; and it is completely unpredictable due to its structure, which goes back and forth in time, playing with us because it takes a while to determine whether we’re in the present or the backstory... or even the future. Anchored by a strong, charismatic central performance by Andrea Riseborough as the older daughter of an American shipping magnate/drug kingpin (Gabriel Byrne, who so far appears as a corpse but I suspect will be in one of the backstory scenes) and Dane DeHaan as her desperately ill younger brother, the show leaves a lot of questions that need answers, which is part of its allure. Not for the squeamish, a member of which I used to count myself. Not this time. 

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