Movie/TV Round-up (…July 2021)

I did my last movie/TV round up back in April, and before that November; these things are not planned. But, as before, here’s a look back only at what I finished (i.e. not the things I fell asleep to or had playing in the background of something else). I may do one of those rankings Film and TV YouTube is so fond of one day, but it is not this day (‘Lord of the Rings’ reference).

I like a good music doc and The BeeGees’ ‘How do You mend a Broken Heart’ was a good, if largely uncomplicated, fairly predictable one. That’s okay, though because I like the Brothers Gibb, and there was something poignant about seeing the eldest, Barry, as the last brother standing – his “I’d rather have them back here and no hits at all” resonated with me.

Fun fact, according to the doc, ‘How can You Mend a Broken Heart’ doc, this heartbreaking love song was actually the first song Barry and Robin, younger brother and rival, wrote together when reconciling in 1971 after a tumultuous break up – marking the return of the BeeGees ahead of the supernova era of their career.

There was a movie called ‘Monster’ about race and the justice system starring the same kid from ‘Luce’ – mentioned in last August’s movie roundup – in really a very similar role (not the details of the characters’ lives so much as his positioning in the story within those complexities of race, trust, and judgment). I’m about as ambiguous on these films as the films are themselves in relation to their themes. Jeffrey Wright and Jennifer Hudson (take over from Luce’s Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as his parents) in ‘Monster’ and I have to admit I didn’t realize Jennifer was now playing mother (to a teen no less) roles – that window of time between ingenue and matron goes by in a Hollywood minute doesn’t it, faster still if you’re a person of colour. Seems like just the other day she was a young songstress singing of heartbreak.

John David Washington’s performance as a street thug was a weak spot of ‘Monster’ – like, rapper Rakim “A$AP Rocky” Mayers, and I can’t believe I’m typing this, was better than him in this, he just was. Good thing I watched ‘Tenet’, Christopher Nolan’s latest, right after because it was a timely reminder of the compelling screen presence JDW inherited from his daddy (Denzel Washington) and at the same time his own hard-earned capabilities – as an actor, leading man, and, potentially, big box office draw. I mean ‘Tenet’ tanked but that’s timing (it was one of the first movies out in the pandemic) and Nolan (whose movies can be puzzle pieces you either put together or you don’t or don’t mind if you do because that’s part of the fun – like my fave ‘Inception’). The film was a mixed and confusing and visually stunning and interesting bag, and indulgent (in Nolan’s insistence on a cinema release when COVID-19 numbers were spiking). But the performances were good. I even liked Robert Pattinson when previously I didn’t understand the sparkly vampire’s appeal (or really the appeal of those ‘Twilight’ films for which he became famous). He and JDW have good chemistry.

‘Wadjda’ is a Saudi Arabian film I found on Netflix one night, and sometimes those algorithms work because this indie was right up my alley. It’s female directed, the first feature by Haifaa al Mansour (I say first though I don’t know if she’s directed anything else), filmed guerrilla style not just for budgetary reasons but because she was a woman (reportedly she couldn’t even talk or interact with men while directing). It was released 2012 but is available all these years later thanks to Netflix’s need for content in the ongoing streaming wars. I recommend – the tween main character and her wish for a bicycle is the simple set-up for a story that tackles gender roles in a rigidly religious society without, in my opinion, though I’m not the person whose opinion really matters in this, being broadly Islamaphobic. It is a specific girl’s story and the making of it a specific director’s story – and it’s #ownvoices which imbues it with a level of authenticity.

Speaking of Netflix a real light and fun find was ‘The Upshaws’ (starring Wanda Sykes, Mike Epps, and the underrated Kim Fields of ‘Facts of Life’ and ‘Living Single’ fame) with its traditional/old school family sitcom format, which is not really the thing anymore (I lean more towards sitcoms like ‘Community’ which I’ve been rewatching), but this was funny which is the bar a comedy needs to clear. Think ‘Good Times’ for the economic struggles (though this family is more middle class) but with cursing.

On the opposite end of joyful was the very disturbing, to the point of I wish I hadn’t watched it, film from some years ago ‘Little Children’ – what an uncomfortable film, what a set of frustrating people.

I also watched ‘Bad Hair’, a questionable but not horrible satirical horror about weaves and assimilation and African folklore; and ‘Army of the Dead’, which I thought I’d like more given that I stan zombie flicks and was still on a Snyder cut ‘Justice League’ high, but, opening sequence aside, no, this was just frustrating and a plot holesaloopa.

‘The Dig’ is one I watched by accident (I was working and had it going in the background) – and you know what, it deserved better (from me). It was really good. It starred Ralph Fiennes whom I hadn’t been able to see as anything but a villain since ‘Schindler’s List’, until now!, and the cruelly underrated ‘Promising Young Woman’ Carey Mulligan (whom I also recently saw as a world weary detective in Collateral, making for three superlative performances by Mulligan that couldn’t be farther from each other). Plus I like fiction that teaches me a little of real world history I wouldn’t otherwise read about – and this one about an archeological find amidst class divides and loss was quietly entertaining and informative.

I also watched a film I had no idea existed ‘Blue Miracle’ and I haven’t felt this invested in a predictable feel good film in a while – this story of a man trying to save his orphanage by winning a fishing tournament is also based on a true story; schmaltzy as these stories are but, also, highly recommend. Another one I barely new existed and thoroughly enjoyed was ‘The Mitchells vs. The Machines’ which was a very meta animated take on the apocalypse (if the apocalypse was led by the AIs that rule our world, which as a child of the OG Terminator era, I kind of believe it will be). Speaking of futuristic fare, I watched ‘Blade Runner 2049’ and will risk the wrath of the stans of this franchise by saying…meh. I’m sure that makes me very uncool. *shrug*

The other music doc I watched in the past few months was ‘Remastered: Who Shot the Sheriff’ which was more social commentary of a particular time in the life of Jamaica, the same time covered in the Marlon James book ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ (reviewed here) than it was music doc about reggae icon Bob Marley. I first studied this period in university and I am, of course, a Bob fan, but there was some new stuff here for me (or maybe more accurately a deeper understanding of certain things). One might even consider it additional reading for anyone interested in adding to their understanding of hemispheric politics and particularly the machinations of America in the internal politics of Caribbean and Latin American countries.

A thing is a thing.

I watched an old teen film/new adult critically acclaimed indie ‘Ghost World’ and I definitely felt like I caught this fic with teenage Thora Birch and Scarlett Johannsen a few decades too late to really be its audience. I am of the Winona Ryder era of cool, disaffected teen (‘Heathers’, ‘Beetlejuice’ etc.). This came across in parts mean girl-ish to me (real mean girl-ish not movie ‘Mean Girls’ ish). Like, I get it, you’re sooo disaffected – “I’m sure it sucks”, “All these movies suck”, “let’s get out of here” – and so unnecessarily unkind that the overbearing uncool people they either target or ignore come off better by comparison. But I do think there’s an audience for this because it isn’t bad, and I wasn’t indifferent to the ennui experienced by the Birch character; I just wasn’t wild over it.

What else did I watch… Kevin Hart’s ‘Fatherhood’, a bit paint by numbers but with Alfre Woodard and Hart trying to stretch a bit, fun for a movie lime when you have to find something people of varying tastes can agree on; ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’, zombie flick number two of this period, it took a dark and unexpected turn there at the end; and another of those voice-dubbed imports as Netflix tries to satisfy our appetite for content amidst the aforementioned streaming wars, this one from France, ‘How I became a Super Hero’ about a world in which supers exist but a drug which artificially imbues regs with superhuman powers is wreaking havoc… and I mean, sure. Which reminds me, I need to catch up on season 2 of The Boys.

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