[Fresh on Blu-ray] ‘MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES’ shines, ‘CARD COUNTER’ and ‘FRENCH DISPATCH’ subvert expectations

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James Clay// Film Critic

THE MITCHELL’S VS THE MACHINE and THE CARD COUNTER are available now on digital and blu ray. THE FRENCH DISPATCH is available on digital now blu ray and DVD 12/28

THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES

Rated PG, 114 minutes.
Director: Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe 
Cast: Abbi JacobsonDanny McBrideMaya RudolphMichael RiandaEric AndréOlivia ColmanFred ArmisenBeck BennettChrissy TeigenJohn LegendCharlyne YiBlake Griffin and Conan O’Brien

THE MITCHELL’S VS THE MACHINES is the best-animated film since INTO THE SPIDERVERSE blew the creative roof off of the superhero genre in December 2018. This sci-fi family comedy takes a whole new approach to the road trip movie and turns it into a film percolating with ideas and expert execution. This animated spectacle directed by filmmaker Mike Rianda (GRAVITY FALLS). This vibrant spectacle has the aesthetics of a middle school trapper keeper filled with stickers, doodles, and effervescent creative energy. However, there’s something extraordinary about MITCHELLS that discusses the relationships we have with technology and the effects on our familial relationships. 

The voice cast includes Abby Jacobson (BROAD CITY), Maya Rudolph (SNL, SISTERS), Danny McBride (EASTBOUND AND DOWN), and Eric Andre (BAD TRIP), who all inject the film with a distinct comedic spin that lends itself to the voice of the movie as a whole. 

Rianda and company had their film stripped from theaters as Sony sold off the rights to Netflix, but the streamer has done a great job in getting the word out with FYC ads and loads of books, stickers etc. to go along with the film. But now MITCHELLS has its proper physical media release, and it’s a doozy. THE MITCHELL’S VS THE MACHINES is one of the more fun and intelligent mainstream films this year, and it’s getting its proper credit towards the end of the year.

RENT/BUY: This is a definite buy for anybody curious about the film or who loved it when it premiered on Netflix. Get a peek behind the lens as the filmmakers chronicle the film’s beginning from soup to nuts. The results are nothing short of satisfying. 

Grade: A-

THE CARD COUNTER

Rated R, 112 minutes
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe, Tiffany Haddish

THE CARD COUNTER takes a feverish yet sterilized look at PTSD filtered through the cynicism of writer/director Paul Schrader. Please make no mistake Schrader is interested in the mechanics of card counting in two-bit casinos. Still, he’s more interested in the psychology of control through his main character, played by Oscar Isaac. Schrader’s tightly wound world has Isaac waxing on about the banality of life and the illusion that this mortal coil will improve on any fundamental level. 

The film becomes a two-hander between Isaac and Tye Sheridan (READY-PLAYER ONE), who continues to improve as an actor, looking deep into his abandonment issues. At the same time, his need for retribution burns brightly. This drama’s fascinating look into the Iraq war by way of a morose buddy film doesn’t always prove to be successful in terms of being an enjoyable movie about life as a card counter, but that’s not necessarily Schrader’s aim in the first place.

 THE CARD COUNTER is a calculated and cold look at the attempt to change, the comfortability of isolation, and the horror that can come with caring for an individual. Visually, Schrader has made one of his most antiseptic films, having the production design composed of depressingly beige hotel rooms and tacky casinos, It is quietly one of the most brilliant choices in cinema this year, certainly one of the more bold choices. Full of surprises, THE CARD COUNTER has one of the more inspiring casting choices in Tiffany Haddish, who continues to evolve as a performer. This won’t work for everyone looking for strictly a slick movie about cards and gambling, but as a brooding meditation on change, Schrader is incredibly successful. 

RENT/BUY: The physical release leaves a little bit to be desired in terms of special features, but you can’t expect much on this front these days from a film of this size. However, the blu ray comes with alluring artwork that showcases Isaac in all his stoic glory if you’re coming in cold, rent this before making the purchase. 

GRADE: B+

THE FRENCH DISPATCH

Rated R, 112 minutes
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe, Tiffany Haddish

Wes Anderson constantly gets accused of repeating himself as a director, which I feel is a bit short-sided. His mannered visual language is twee at its worst and a euphoric blend of humor, heart, and symmetry at its best. Anderson has done with his ten films to create a unique aesthetic parried with sophisticated dialogue that taps into a specific itch for fans of his work. 

His latest THE FRENCH DISPATCH is a departure for the filmmaker who relied on sentimentality in each of his films. And while this is unmistakably a Wes Anderson movie, he’s challenging his nostalgic narrative not to look back longingly at yesteryear but to learn from the mistakes of the past. The aim of THE FRENCH DISPATCH is moving forward, and it’s easy with a visual style this charming. The framing device is the death of the editor of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), whose spirit encompasses the entire film even though he only has a few minutes of screen time. His presence looms large and influences the journalists and storytellers guiding us into this fictional French town. It’s a beautiful sentiment that our storytellers and reporters held in such esteem, which could be read as Anderson’s response to the Tru*p presidency. 

Rounding out the cast is an embarrassment of actors including Tilda Swinton, Benicio Del Toro, Lea Sedoux, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Timothy Chalamet, Owen Wilson, and Adrien Brody. Each embodies a biting allure with their own ideas on politics, art, sex and culture it’s a fascinating look that is rewarded on repeat viewings. This may not be Anderson’s flashiest film humor-wise or with performances, but it’s a filmmaker ten films deep who decided to make a sharp left turn while staying true to their roots. 

RENT/BUY: This release is void of any special features, but THE FRENCH DISPATCH should get a Criterion release in the next few years. This digital release includes a gorgeous 4K transfer that makes this worth the purchase. 

GRADE: A

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.