Make Your Picks

Thief's Monthly Movie Loot - 2021 Edition


It's on Tubi if you happen to be in the US (or use VPN).
Appreciate the heads-up but I'm not and I don't as it screws up other stuff that I use every day
NomsPre-1930 Countdown

terrible, 0/5, not enough puppies.

(1944, Ferguson & Co.)
A film with the number 3 (Three, Third, etc.) in its title

♫ "We're three caballeros, three gay caballeros
They say we are birds of a feather ♪
♪ We're happy amigos, no matter where he goes
The one, two, and three goes, we're always together" ♫

Released for Donald Duck's 10th birthday/anniversary, The Three Caballeros features a series of shorts and segments tied by the premise of Donald (Clarence Nash) opening a series of presents from a group of friends. Most notably, he receives presents from José Carioca (José Oliveira), a Brazilian parrot, and Panchito Pistoles (Joaquin Garay), a Mexican rooster, and then the three get to spend some time traveling around their respective countries.

This film was released at the peak of World War II, and was part of an effort from Walt Disney to improve US relations with Latin American countries. It is comprised of a handful of segments featuring countries like Perú, Ecuador, Uruguay, and finally Brazil and Mexico, during which our three main characters interact with locals, including live-action musicians and dancers.

This is a film I remember seeing back when I was a kid. I think it was one of the first films I rented in the 80s when we got a VHS, so there's a bit of nostalgia tied to it. But for the most part, the film manages to be fun and entertaining. The structure is a bit of a mess, and the narrative ranges from loose to non-existent, but the way the "caballeros" interact makes it fun and breezy.

The film is hindered by some racial stereotypes and problematic representations, but overall, you get the sense that the intention to honor Latin American culture was genuine. This is mostly evidenced by the use of actual Latin American voice actors and musicians. Both Oliveira and Garay are from the countries where their characters come from, and the way they highlight Latin American music is solid.

Certainly not Disney's best effort, but given the circumstances when it was released, I give them props for coming out with a film that has endured to some extent and that managed to shine a light on other cultures at a time when that wasn't the norm.

Check out my podcast: The Movie Loot!

These are more or less my plans for the rest of the month...

A film from the Criterion Collection whose number includes the #3 (i.e. 13, 230, 830): Torn between Ran, Elevator to the Gallows, or Ace in the Hole
A film from the 1930s: Vampyr (which also counts for the HOF24)
A documentary film: Torn between Be Natural and Lo and Behold
The third part on a film franchise: I might rewatch Mission: Impossible III, or I might sneak a freebie of The Road Warrior and close with Thunderdome, so I can finally tackle this franchise.
A film directed by a woman (Women's History Month): Maybe Nomadland
A film from Russ Meyer (born March 21): ???
A film from Greece (Revolution Day, March 25): Dogtooth

Any suggestions or recommendations are more than welcome.

For some reason, forgot to post this here...

This is my fourth episode of the year (fifth, if we count the Harry and Sally special) of Thief's Monthly Movie Loot. It dropped a couple of weeks ago, and in it I talk about the films I saw in February. It is pretty much what I've been posting here, but check it out.

Thief's Monthly Movie Loot 32 - The February Loot

As usual, it's also available on Spotify here.

Also, I recorded the next episode last weekend with two great guests, so keep your eyes and ears open for that too.

(2021, Hall & López Estrada)

"Well, the world's broken. You can't trust anyone."
"Or maybe the world's broken because you don't trust anyone."

They say "trust is a two-way street". You can't expect others to trust you, if you can't trust them yourself. You gotta give a little, to receive a little. That sentiment seems to be the core morale at the heart of Disney's latest animated adventure, Raya and the Last Dragon. In it, the titular character (Kelly Marie Tran) sets out to find "the last dragon", after a mysterious entity called the Druun is unleashed turning her father and most of her village to stone.

The Druun had been previously fought by powerful dragons that inhabited the land of Kumandra. But to finally defeat it, the dragons had to use all their power and contain it in a magical orb, which is now protected by Raya's people. But this has resulted in a long-standing rift between the different territories of Kumandra, as they all want control of the orb. After a confrontation occurs, Raya must overcome her mistrusts and recover the pieces of the orb, and of the land, to summon Sisu (Awkwafina) in order to defeat the Druun.

The story sounds a bit complicated, but the film does a great job at exposing it during the prologue in a way that it's engaging and easy to follow. Actually, one of my main gripes with the film is that its narrative beats are fairly predictable, i.e. Raya must learn to trust in others and join forces in order to defeat the Druun. But despite this, the execution is pretty solid. The voice talent of Tran and Awkwafina is great, and they have good chemistry together.

But as solid as the story and its voice cast is, I thought the animation and the direction to be the real stars of the story. I mean, the animation... is... gorgeous. The fight choreographies are excellent, and the film manages to have its share of thrills despite the aforementioned predictability. And how about that sword? Such a cool weapon, so kudos to the production design.

Raya and the Last Dragon comes at a time of resurgence for Disney films, and it does so by sticking to a few tropes that have been key to their films during the last decade or so; and that is the portrayal of strong female leads, the absence of a central romantic relationship while highlighting other type of relationships, and the lack of a proper antagonist by focusing more on gray moral areas. That has been the case with Frozen, Zootopia, Moana, among others.

The decision to put the relationship between equals, and how we need to trust those around us in order to be stronger and better people was definitely an appropriate one today. As the world around us seems to become more broken by differences and divisions, it's good to know that we can trust a children's film to teach us the way. Now trust is a two-way street, so let us take the next step.


(1967, Anderson)
A film with the word "Spring" in its title

"Whenever you try to live your life but... just don't work out."

Mason Cooley once wrote "Once wealth and beauty are gone, there is always rural life". There is much to be said about the stereotypes of country or rural life, but I don't think it would be a stretch to say that through the decades, many people have expressed feelings of entrapment, wanting to escape, or the lack of opportunities to "progress", things just not working out. This little-known independent film shows us a sliver of that.

Set in rural Ohio, Spring Night, Summer Night follows the events surrounding a dysfunctional family. Carl (Ted Heim) is the oldest son of miner-turned-farmer Virgil (John Crawford), who has remarried with Mae (Marj Johnson) with whom he has a bunch of other children, including Jess (Larue Hall), who is slightly younger than Carl. All of these characters fit the above mold of feeling trapped and smothered by the circumstances around them. Be it financial struggles, longings of a long-gone past, or an unwanted pregnancy.

I stumbled upon this film pretty much by chance while browsing Mubi, and although it was far from great, I still found myself pleasantly surprised by how honest and genuine it felt. Despite treading a decidedly controversial topic, the film handles it with care. Part of that is because of the pensive performances of the cast, but also to Anderson's melancholic direction, which often puts the surroundings in the foreground, as if the mountains and trees were absorbing the characters. His direction is still somewhat amateurish, but there are flairs of goodness here and there.

Other than that, some performances are a bit spotty (particularly of the supporting characters), the pace is a bit sluggish, and the way the characters try to handle the main conflict in the last act might be a bit cringey and problematic. But I will still give it props for putting it forward in 1967. Also, the black and white cinematography is quite good.

Towards the end of the film, Virgil and Mae both have some moments of looking back separately, and reminiscing of their past. Times when they had money and/or beauty. Things that they did, and things they could've done. The regrets of trying to make things right or just differently, and things just not working out. Now that "wealth and beauty are gone", what do they have left?


For those reading, sorry about the lack of updates. Work has been hell the past couple of days and I haven't been able to catch a break. I did see three films recently, one of which counts for my challenge (the others were with the kids). So expect some reviews in the next few days once this hell freezes over.

Another month, another episode. For those interested, here is the latest episode of Thief's Monthly Movie Loot where I chat with the hosts of the Defining Disney Podcast.

Thief's Monthly Movie Loot 33 - The Disney Loot

I just published it, so it hasn't populated to Spotify yet, but if you want to listen there, you can keep an eye on the podcast feed here

This one was a lot of fun to record, so check it out. We talk everything Disney. From their animated films canon to the Disney corporate culture, from Snow White to Raya and the Last Dragon. Nicole and Caroline are fun to talk to, but also very serious about their work. They know their stuff. We also share our Top 5 Disney Films, and I even sing a little.

(2020, Zhao)
A film directed by a woman

"No, I'm not homeless. I'm just houseless."

That is how Fern (Frances McDormand) prefers to describe herself when confronted by a family friend about her situation. Fern was laid off when the plant she used to work for shut down, so now she lives inside her van while performing seasonal and scattered gigs to sustain herself. But the fact that she doesn't have a "house" doesn't seem to deter her from trying to make the most out of her situation.

Nomadland follows Fern, whose nomadic lifestyle takes her from the coldness of Northern Nevada and the deserts of Arizona to the remoteness of South Dakota and the relative "comforts" of California. Through all that, we get to see her struggles to survive and scrape by, whether it's enduring a particularly cold winter in her van or not knowing how to pay for a costly repair to her home/van. In the process, she meets a group of fellow nomads which she befriends and learns from.

The film manages to effectively convey how hard it is to ultimately make ends meet for regular people; people that have been sometimes reluctantly pushed towards this lifestyle for lack of any other choices. The way that the film shows the way that America's economic system pretty much abandons hard-working, elderly people to their own luck, was mostly on point. I also thought that putting her at work at an Amazon fulfillment center was particularly clever, considering the fact that Amazon's pretty much the biggest company right now and its CEO is close to become the world's first trillionaire.

There is a moment where the nomads trade speeches and explanations about their situation, which veers very close to heavy-handedness, but I felt that Zhao had the necessary restrain to never let it go overboard. On the same vein, I never felt she glamorized Fern's lifestyle. Quite the contrary. I thought the struggle was always evident, and always upfront.

But the driving force on this film is McDormand, whose performance is spectacular. Her verbal and non-verbal acting makes us feel Fern's restlessness and desperation. The supporting cast is also impressive, especially if you consider that most of them are not professional actors. David Strathairn, who plays a fellow nomad that Fern meets, is the exception. But his performance is so subtle and muted that you don't feel the difference between him and the rest of the supporting cast, and I mean that in a good way.

At one point, Fern reminisces about her former house in Nevada. And although she dismisses it at first, she quickly does a U-turn as her mind wanders in the memories... not necessarily of the house, but of the space around it.

"Nothing special. Just a company tract house... Actually, it was special. We were right on the edge of town. And our backyard looks out at this huge open space. It was just desert, desert, desert, all the way to the mountains. There was nothin' in our way."
There's another scene where Fern explores a canyon park where Strathairn works, and she does so in such a restless yet playful manner, almost childlike. And I think that is a perfect scene that encapsulates Fern's character. Restless, desperate, curious, houseless, but nothing in her way.


(2012, Moore)

"I'm bad, and that's good! I will never be good, and that's not bad!... There's no-one I'd rather be... than me."

That is the mantra that the titular character (John C. Reilly) recites along with other video game "bad guys" as they learn to cope that they're designed to be that: bad guys. But what if you're not happy with that life? What if you want to feel loved and accepted instead of hated and rejected?

Wreck-It Ralph introduces us to a world inside and "behind" classic arcade games. A world where video game characters travel from game to game and mingle in a surge protector that acts like a "train" station to each game. When Ralph, the "bad guy" in a game called Fix-It Felix, Jr. gets tired of rejection, he sets out to win a medal in another game, any game, to prove to the residents of his game that he can be a hero.

The biggest asset of this film is the clever way in which it builds this imaginary world and in how the characters interact. They travel through power cables, they have a drink at Tapper, and then they go back to their "worlds". The creativity with which each "world" is built is amazing and keeps the film feeling fresh. The game where Ralph decides to win his medal, Hero's Duty (a mix of Call of Duty and Halo) is dark and sinister, whereas the game where he ends up trapped afterwards, Sugar Rush Speedway (a mix of Mario Kart and Candy Crush) is colorful and cheery.

It is in this game that Ralph meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a young girl that dreams of being a part of the game, but can't because of some "glitch" that causes her to appear/disappear erratically. Like Ralph, she is an outcast trying to fit inside the world she inhabits. Of course, the two become friends as they attempt to convince King Candy (Alan Tudyk) of her worth.

Aside of the world-building and animation, the voice performances are great. Reilly is superb in conveying the weariness and depression of Ralph, while Silverman's voice work as Vanellope, combined with the character design, results in one of the cutest and most lovable characters ever. The same care applies to characters like Ralph's "nemesis", Felix (Jack McBrayer) and Calhoun (Jane Lynch), who have to follow Ralph to stop a virus from Hero's Duty to contaminate Sugar Rush and eventually the whole arcade.

My main issue with the film comes up in the last act. The motivations of King Candy and the "twist revelation" about Vanellope ends up feeling like an unnecessary deus-ex-machina, and it ultimately muddles what seemed to be the main message of the film of accepting outcasts for who they are, which Ralph proudly proclaims in the end ("there's no one I'd rather be than me"). Unfortunately, in order to be accepted and "win" her place, Vanellope is forced to become someone else which feels like a betrayal.

Despite that, the film is fun enough for everyone to enjoy. Even though it is aimed at children, I assume it is adults like me that would get a kick out of it with all the 80s and 90s video game references. The characters are great and likable and, even with the muddled message, still works thanks to the great voice performances and character design.


(2018, Moore & Johnston)

"All friendships change. But the good ones, they get stronger because of it."

One of my favorite quotes, which I reference often, comes from Canadian rock band Rush: "Changes aren't permanent, but change is", which is true. We're in constant change, everybody is. People change points of view, they change their aspirations and goals, people grow up and move... or in this case, change video games. That's Ralph's (John C. Reilly) biggest fear in this sequel to 2012's Wreck-It Ralph. His friend Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) is changing, and he has to learn to cope with it.

In Ralph Breaks the Internet, our characters have to deal with two fears. Vanellope is burdened by the monotony and routine of her game, while Ralph is afraid of losing her. When the Sugar Rush game is broken, they both decide to use the newly plugged-WiFi router to get into the vastness of the Internet to find the broken part. As a result, they end up exploring the world beyond their arcade.

You gotta hand it to directors Moore and Johnston, and co-writer Pamela Ribon. Like the original film, they find immensely clever ways to build this imaginary world and how the characters interact with them. I particularly enjoyed their integrations of the "search bar", eBay, YouTube, and online ads and pop-ups. The creativity with which these technologies are integrated into the story is amazing, most of which happens during the first half of the film.

Unfortunately, the film gets bogged down in the second half for two reasons. The product placement does get a bit overboard, especially with *wink, wink* Disney. There were a lot of things I appreciated, especially Vanellope's meeting with the Disney princesses (especially when you consider how Disney managed to get most of the original actresses to join in), but other than that, the reasonings for her to be at the Oh My Disney website doesn't hold and are just an excuse to highlight dozens of Disney properties.

The second gripe has to do with Vanellope's feelings and motivations. Although interesting and thematically deep, I don't think they are fleshed out that well and her integration into the world of Slaughter Race, the online racing game that now attracts her interest, isn't as organic as I would've wanted. Plus, the original quest of finding the broken steering wheel for the Sugar Rush game, which pretty much fuels the first half is suddenly shoved aside for this conflict between Ralph and Vanellope that, once again, although thematically deep, feels muddled.

But much like the original, the film is held up by Reilly and Silverman's excellent voice work and chemistry. Ultimately, the story is about their friendship and how it can change and still be strong despite those changes. In that aspect, the film succeeds.


(2009, Lanthimos)
A film from Greece

"I hope your kids have bad influences and develop bad personalities. I wish this with all my heart."

There are numerous quotes regarding the cause/effect and juxtaposition of ignorance vs. knowledge — ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power (or pain?); with knowledge comes pain; what I know can't hurt me — all of which boil down to the belief that sometimes is better "not to know". This belief has been applied in everything, from certain religions or sects to some types of government, and even relationships. Yorgos Lanthimos second feature film explores the application of this belief in the upbringing of children to the extreme.

Dogtooth follows a Greek couple (Christos Stergioglou and Michelle Valley) that keep their three "teenage" children isolated from the outside world. They live in an enclosed estate in the outskirts of the city, where the children are subjected to routines of exercise and bizarre language lessons (i.e. "shotgun" is a bird, "keyboard" is the vagina). Good behavior is rewarded with stickers or other meager benefits, and bad behavior with harsh violence.

Although the film is not graphically explicit or gory, Lanthimos succeeds in creating an exceedingly disturbing atmosphere in everything we see; from something as banal as the family dancing to something unsettling as the father paying a security guard at his job to have sex with his son (the fact that he invests in satisfying his son's sexual urges, but not the daughters, should tell you a bit of his frame of mind). The children are only allowed to watch home videos of themselves on the TV, while the parents secretly watch porn in their room. This is all natural to them, and yet there is nothing natural about what we see.

I feel like a lot can be said, written, and analyzed about each of the bizarre practices that the family goes through. But much like the patriarch, Lanthimos prefers to keep us in the dark and just let the events linger without much explanation. Maybe it is an analogy or a jab at religion, a critique of family life or disciplinary excesses, or even homeschooling, but Lanthimos refrains from explaining the "why"s behind it all.

Whatever it is, he manages to sustain that atmosphere all the way while drawing some great performances from their cast. The awkwardness and uneasiness oozes from the screen. Whether it's in the restrained anger from the parent, or the fearful servitude of the mother, or the weird mixture of naivete and ignorance in the children, and the knowledge that they probably won't know better.


(1967, Forbes)

Radio: "The problem, the major problem of old age is undoubtedly loneliness. A great many old people live entirely alone, unvisited and unwanted, living day in and day out in small rooms without company or friends."
Margaret: "Poor old souls."

The above quote comes from a news article that Margaret Ross (Edith Evans) listens to. A report she dismisses a bit condescendingly while standing alone, unvisited, in her small apartment, as if it had nothing to do with her. Because, even though Ross lives impoverished and alone, in a rundown street of England, she lives mostly detached from her reality, either consciously or subconsciously. That is the focus of 1967's The Whisperers.

I admit I walked into this more or less blind. Various plot synopsis made it sound as if the film was some sort of spooky drama because Ross seems to be haunted or bothered by "voices" she hears around her apartment, the so-called "whisperers". As a matter of fact, one of the first scenes of the film is her going to the police station to inquire about the police "investigation" on this "voices", an inquiry which the police officer dismisses by assuring her that they have a "brave" man "always on the job".

But I was surprised to see that the film was a more dramatic exploration at the life and mind of an elderly woman who has been essentially abandoned by everyone, from her no-good husband and her criminal son to maybe even God? (another early scene features Ross in a small church service for poor people where she's mistreated by other attendants that mock her and call her "dozy old cow").

But Ross carries on, somewhat oblivious to her surroundings, claiming that she'll eventually receive a substantial amount of money from some alleged businesses, while signing her letters to the National Assistance government office as "Countess of Erde, Dame of the Order of the Garter, Doctor of Law". It was initially hard to peg Ross cause she does behave somewhat obnoxiously and condescendingly during the first half. But as the plot progresses, and you see what she's actually been through, her life and situation becomes more heartbreaking.

The real highlight of the film is Evans' performance. A performance that, even before finishing the film, I felt was among the best female performances I've ever seen. The way Evans conveys the solitude and loneliness of Ross, hidden behind the facade of pretensions and false hopes was nothing short of impressive. The scene where she suddenly comes upon a money stash that was hidden by her son is a spectacle of emotions and non-verbal acting.

But her performance is not the only one that shines. Every performance is spot on; from the sleaziness of her husband (Eric Portman) and her son (Ronald Fraser) to the cunning of the woman that cons her (Avis Bunnage) or the genuine worry from Mr. Conrad (Gerald Sim), the employee at the National Assistance that seems to be the only one to actually care about Ross.

The film does seem to wander a bit in the last act, as we see Ross' husband get mixed up with the wrong crowd. But it serves the purpose of getting things back to the main theme, which is the abandonment and disregard of the elderly from pretty much everybody, and the effect it has in their mental health. As someone who usually finds himself affected by this kind of film, this one hit me in the right spot. Among the best I've seen recently.


A film with a title that starts with the letters E or F:

Emma. (2020) This is ... fine, I guess? It looks nice, but given the existence of previous adaptations (the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow version or, even better, Clueless), I'm not entirely sure why this was made. It doesn't really have anything new to say about class or sex. It's a perfectly pleasant diversion, though.

A film from the 1930s:

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) Charles Laughton's performance is the main reason to see this. His Captain Bligh is almost comically evil, yet Laughton still manages, somehow, to invest him with a glint of humanity. It's kind of amusing that, for historical accuracy, they made Clark Gable shave off his mustache but didn't have him speak with an English accent. More generally, it's an entertaining and well made seafaring adventure, but Laughton is the real draw.

(1973, Laloux)
A film with a title that starts with the letters E or F

"I grew up fast in that slow world, for a Draag week was equal to one of my years. I was just a living plaything that sometimes dared to rebel."

Set in the mysterious planet of Ygam, Fantastic Planet follows the clashes between the human-like Oms and the giant, blue humanoid Draags that are trying to eradicate the former from their planet, while also keeping them as pets. Terr (Eric Baugin) is a young Om that has been kept as a pet since infancy by Tiwa (Jennifer Drake). But when he accidentally starts to absorb knowledge from his captors, he ends up leaving Tiwa and joining a group of rebel Oms in order to oust their captors.

I found this film both amazing and mesmerizing for so many reasons. I'll start by saying that the opening scene was such a perfect way to capture what this world is about, to expose the themes without spelling them out, but rather with haunting and eerie visuals. Second, the animation was so effective, and you feel like it suits the plot and the era so well. The use of colors and certain angles only helped to amplify the eeriness of this world. Third, the creativity with which director René Laloux and co-writer Roland Topor build this planet and set its environment and rules is nothing short of impressive. Finally, the music is so cool and helps to establish the trippy mood extremely well.

Fantastic Planet was a troubled project to begin with; not only for its themes and ambitions, but also because of the circumstances surrounding its production. While production started in France, it was animated in Czechoslovakia which had more resources in that field. Halfway through, Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Soviet Union in an effort to suppress a reform movement in the country. Casually, co-writer Topor was of Polish-Jewish descent and had to spend his childhood hiding from the Gestapo. All of this adds more weight to the themes of oppression and subjugation that permeate through the film.

I still have some issues with it. Even though I understand it's not the film's goal, but the lack of character development and depth hinders its effect a bit. Plus, the resolution feels somewhat abrupt and a bit too convenient. Still, I would definitely say that this was one of the most interesting film-watching experiences I've had recently.


A film from the 1930s:

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) Charles Laughton's performance is the main reason to see this. His Captain Bligh is almost comically evil, yet Laughton still manages, somehow, to invest him with a glint of humanity. It's kind of amusing that, for historical accuracy, they made Clark Gable shave off his mustache but didn't have him speak with an English accent. More generally, it's an entertaining and well made seafaring adventure, but Laughton is the real draw.
I remember watching this several years ago and enjoying it a lot, but I should probably rewatch it some day.


(2016, Herzog)
A documentary film

"It used to be that when you communicated with someone, the person you were communicating with was as important as the information; Now on the internet, the person is unimportant at all."

Oxford Languages defines "reverie" as "a daydream", some thought or idea that we seem to get lost in, while also offering an archaic definition that refers to it as "a fanciful or impractical idea or theory." It is no wonder that director Werner Herzog chose that word for the subtitle of this documentary, since most of the ideas and inventions exposed in it could fit both definitions; whether it's the inventions of the past that were seen as "fanciful or impractical", but are now a reality, or the "daydreams" of today which we still don't know if we will ever attain.

Lo and Behold opens with the birth of the Internet in 1969, but then branches out to demonstrate the various reaches and effects of a "connected world" in our lives, our society, and our future. From its humble beginnings in a UCLA hallway to the possibilities of connecting with astronauts in Mars; from its advantages in the cure of an illness through a seemingly inoffensive game to its damaging impact in addicted people that have decided to leave gaming and the Internet completely.

Herzog does a good job dividing the film in ten chapters, all of which are relatively self-contained while dealing with the same theme of "connectedness" and the positive/negative impacts it has or could have. There is a certain meandering aspect to it since there is little connective tissue between each chapter, but they all have the vibes of "daydreaming" that I suppose Herzog wanted. His choice of interviewees also, many of which are quite eccentric, support that "dreamy" vibe.

I read some reviews wondering why would Herzog do this, and arguing that it didn't fit into his style. I'm no expert on him, having only seen four of his feature films, but if there is one constant in those four films is the near or complete madness of humanity in different situations and environments. People dreaming of things that seem out of reach and unattainable, that sometimes end up disconnected from the world as a result. I'd say this fits neatly into that.


I should've mentioned that me working IT probably factored into my overall appreciation of the documentary.