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December 2021

The Go Master

Courtesy photo

Schemes in Antiques (2021)

Based on Ma Boyong’s novel, which has already spawned a popular TV series, “Schemes in Antiques” revolves around a Chinese national treasure – the head of a Buddha statue from Wu Zetian’s palace during the Tang Dynasty – gifted to the Japanese sometime during the early 20th century. Kana Kido (Lilie Matsumine) now wishes to return it on condition that the recipient must be a descendant of Xu Yicheng, the authority on antiques accused of treason and executed for giving the Buddha head away. Following the fall from grace of grandpa Yicheng and abandonment by his father, Xu Heping (Guo Tao), Xu Yuan (Lei Jiayin) trades electronics and dabbles in small-time scams at flea-market auctions.

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Power Moves

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Pushpa: The Rise (2021)

The three-hour-long first half of what is evidently an epic crime saga, “Pushpa: The Rise” recounts Allu Arjun’s titular character working his way up from lowly coolie born out of wedlock to boss of a lucrative sandalwood-smuggling syndicate. He displays ingenuity and cajones very early on, apt at doing whatever it takes to avoid getting busted by the authorities. Pushpa quickly earns the trust of Konda Reddy (Ajay Ghosh), who parcels out greater responsibilities and a percentage of the profits to him. Once he catches wind that dealer Mangalam Srinu (Sunil) grossly shortchanges them, Pushpa urges Konda to renegotiate. When Konda balks, Pushpa conspires to pit him against Mangalam and reap all the benefits.

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It's Complicated

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Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (2021)

“Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui” starts off like many a Bollywood romance: Manu (Ayushmann Khurrana), working-class gym owner and strong-man contestant, falls madly in love with the well-born new Zumba instructor, Maanvi (Vaani Kapoor). Typically their affair would be doomed when her parents begin arranging for her to marry a suitor of compatible social standing, but something is a little different here. When signing up for a dating app, Maanvi hesitates for a moment before selecting “woman.” During a phone conversation with her father, we learn that she’s not on speaking terms with her mother. Given the press surrounding the film, it’s not spoiling to disclose that Maanvi is trans. There’s no shocking “Crying Game”-esque reveal, what with the aforementioned foreshadowing in place to mentally prepare those watching the film cold.

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Nary a Vision

Murray Close/Warner Brothers Pictures

The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

“The Matrix Resurrections” is part ’90s cyberpunk (remember “Hackers,” “The Net” and “Johnny Mnemonic,” which also features our beloved Keanu Reeves?), part zombie flick and part ’20s bracing critique of internet corporate overlords like Google, Amazon and Facebook. Much of the new entry retreads the Wachowskis’ trilogy circa 1999 to 2003, with a few exceptions: Smith, here played by Jonathan Groff, is now, rather than Terminator in the computer simulation, a Musk/Bezos/Zuckerberg-type tyrant and business partner of Thomas Anderson/Neo (Mr. Reeves), who deliberately articulates in early scenes his disdain for Warner Brothers’ decision to revive “The Matrix” with or without its creators – which perhaps explains how Lana Wachowski only begrudgingly came onboard.

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Bad-Self Discovery

Kasper Tuxen/Neon

The Worst Person in the World (2021)

The title “The Worst Person in the World” isn’t a reference to the film’s protagonist, but it very well could have been. We learn during the prologue that Julie (Renate Reinsve) hasn’t quite settled on what she wants in life and has switched her college major a couple of times. Though decidedly lacking in stick-to-itiveness, she plunges headlong into a committed relationship with Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) the moment he urges her to move on and find herself because of their 15-year age gap.

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That '70s Flick

Paul Thomas Anderson/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Licorice Pizza (2021)

Essentially Paul Thomas Anderson’s take on “Once Upon a Time in . . . Hollywood,” “Licorice Pizza” is ’70s nostalgia peppered with sketchy Tinseltown lore and auteurist details variously recalling “Boogie Nights,” “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Inherent Vice,” revolving around the puppy love between 16-year-old child star Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour) and arrested-developed 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim, of the namesake band) in the 1973 San Fernando Valley.

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