Movie Reviews
Monday , September 28 2020

2020 Films

(based on non-festival, U.S. theatrical release date)

The Assistant. Seriously though, all of you corporate employees out there know that HR is not your friend, right? (Grade: A)

Bad Education. For better or for worse, these scandal-biopics tend to be ensemble affairs (e.g., The Big Short). But in my opinion, this rather oblique critique of contemporary capitalism would have benefited greatly from going all in on the student journalist’s point of view. (Grade: B-)

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). The bar was set about as low as it could go with Suicide Squad, which I believe explains the inflated scores; but this is also a case of setting the bar lower for female-dominated action films – as a certain group of cinephiles will give an extra star or two to a film like this solely due to the identities of the director and cast, the filmmakers tend to take much of the audience for granted (a problem that I think can only be solved, perhaps ironically, by there being more female-dominated subgenre fare in the competitive marketplace).  Outside of Margot Robbie’s kinetic and colorful rendering of the title character, however, much of the dialogue lands with a thud; the storytelling is as blunt and monochromatic as its gender politics (underscored with a pink highlighter in the film’s only manifestation of a supernatural power); and the Birds of Prey themselves have little on-screen chemistry.  I am not familiar with the comic book, but I think this particular antihero deserved a better crafted script and better supporting performances. (Grade: C+)

Blow the Man Down. The Coen-esque pitch has promise, but the execution is wobbly at best. And I guess intrusive scores are a positive thing now? (Grade: C+)

Da 5 Bloods. Dear Black People: You deserved a better war film. Much better. … Dear White People: You can be against racism and a militarized police presence and still call out a slog of a film for its patently poor craft (in this instance, from top to bottom). So far, I’ve listened to three mildly positive reviews by renowned reviewers/podcasters that sounded more like veiled apologies. If Da 5 Bloods wasn’t directed by Spike Lee and you weren’t falling all over yourselves to signal how woke you are amidst the current ephemera of anecdotally-driven protests, I bet that a certain landmine-saving sequence would already be gif’d into a meme for twitterverse ridicule. (Grade: C-)

Emma. Leaning in to its hermetically-sealed milieu of true privilege with an unapologetically cartoonish air,  Emma [full stop] is so well executed, across the board, that it would be difficult—even for a cinephile not within Jane Austen’s demographic—not to derive some pleasure from its bittersweet treats. (Grade: B-)

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. Not enough elves. (Grade: C-)

The Hunt. Silly, blunt satire for the silent majority of moderates, who are constantly challenged to bear the terminally self-righteous, irony-impaired tribes of the 20% farthest to the Left and the 20% on the farthest Right hyperbolize, conflate, and stereotype (according to their own double standards) in what passes for political and social discourse these days; so of course, expect the members of each tribe to opine that this movie disproportionally picks upon them.  More of this please.  And Betty Gilpin too. (Grade: B-)

The Invisible Man. A superhero origin story? (Grade: B)

The King of Staten Island. I wanted to like this, but I think my relationship with Judd Apatow—or more specifically, third-act Judd Apatow—has run its course. (Grade: C+)

The Lodge. Kids are just the worst. (Grade: B)

The Lovebirds. This really should’ve been better. I mean, really. (Grade: C+)

Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Bottom Line: If you’re in the mood for this kind of film, I couldn’t possibly recommend 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007) more than this. … The performances by Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder are undeniably strong.  But notwithstanding the extent to which writer/director Eliza Hittman attempts to humanize this drama with the hallmarks of neo-neorealism, this is a film driven, first and foremost, by a political agenda.  And I tend to have problems with such films, even when—indeed, especially whenI agree with the agenda (as is the case here), since filmmakers who are so motivated often lack any sense of nuance in their conveyances – resulting in little more than an exercise in preaching to the converted. … Ironically enough, perhaps, with the central drama revolving around an unintended pregnancy, NRSA somehow also manages to be too coy for its own good.  As if any violation of the Bechdel test could carry the death penalty, Hittman overcommits to the Female Perspective, the inorganic effects of which are most evident from her refusal to even entertain any discussion that would reveal who impregnated her main character – even in the interactions with the character’s otherwise inquisitive cousin-confidant.  (The closest we get to a clue is an odd interaction between the family dog and “Ted,” whose nonfilial designation in the credits suggests is a step-father or mother’s live-in boyfriend.)  Combined with the fact that virtually every male character on display is doing something overtly misogynistic or downright creepy, what we’re left with feels more like an argument for the unmitigated evil of the patriarchy than a realistic examination of its subject matter.  Hittman just couldn’t risk muddying the ideological waters with too much humanity. … (I would characterize this as Retributive Cinema: groups that have been subject to grossly oversimplified characterizations in all those films by the “white patriarchy” make films populated by grossly oversimplified characterizations of white males; it’s not particularly illuminating, but hey, everybody loves a tale of revenge, even if it is metatextual.) (Grade: C)

Saint Frances. I thought I’d patronize the art cinema across the street one last time before they shut down for an indeterminate period – as has been decreed by the powers that be, who most certainly don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck, to compensate for their own poor planning.  Admittedly, my mood was not good.  Saint Frances did not help. … I’ve read enough Vox and watched enough Fox to anticipate how this will play out among the tribes: for those of the progressive faith on the coasts, this Sundance-y little indie-that-could will undoubtedly feel like food for the woke soul, a satisfaction of their diversity fetish; and for those elites that serve as the cultural filter for all those good Christians in the red states, this provocation will certainly be interpreted as a repudiation of their own ideological forays into “mainstream” cinema (Unplanned (2019)). … But for this particular viewer who has grown numb to cinematic virtue signaling (which, in this instance, pushes at least two sequences uncomfortably close to self-parody), Saint Frances is not nearly as cute, funny, moving, or conscious of humanity as it thinks it is; and the title character—in terms of both the writing and the performance by Kelly O’Sullivan—could hardly be less compelling. (Grade: C-)

Sea Fever. Notwithstanding the engaging lead performance by Hermione Corfield, this low-budget, sea-bound riff on The Thing (1982) ultimately suffers from an over-indulgence in cliché. (Grade: C+)

Shirley. A unique opportunity to explore a mysterious persona—even though rendered ambitiously by Elizabeth Moss—is undermined by a ponderous script, nauseous cinematography, and obnoxious score. (Grade: C)

The Vast of Night. This feels like a trust-funded film student’s jumbled exercise in formalism. And for all of the film’s connections to the radio age, the basic sound is horrible, and the monologues sound more like recitations. (Grade: C)

Vivarium. I guess it’s just me and Mark Kermode for this one. … Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg: the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks of contemporary indie cinema? (Grade: B+)

The Wrong Missy. Make no mistake – this is a horrible film. And yet, I could not take my eyes off Lauren Lapkus. (Grade: B-)

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