All these titles are available to rent - the cheapest at $1.99 on iTunes, the highest at $12 via Kino Marquee, a "digital cinema" that sends your ticket purchase to support the independent theater where you would have seen the movie, were we not in shutdown.
dir: Sasie Sealy
pr: Cara Marcous / Krista Parris
scr: Angela Cheng / Sasie Sealy
cin: Eduardo Enrique Mayén
In which a widowed grandmother finds herself with a big bag of cash wanted by gangsters. There is a certain "veteran actress plays stern yet kooky" stock role that Maggie Smith usually has cornered and which, at first glance, I thought Lucky Grandma may be (fine by me, I love both My Old Lady and Tsai Chin, I don't mind a combo). While Lucky Grandma is plenty zany, it rests neither on Chin's rep nor on the visual of an old lady getting into such shenanigans. Instead, we get a story of someone in the "now what?" stage of their life who gets into trouble when she decides she's going to finally, finally, take what she deserves! The movie is a comedy, but Chin's is not a broad performance: there's hunger and hurt behind every move. A superb star vehicle, an overall good time.
The Way Back
dir: Gavin O'Connor
pr: Gordon Gray / Ravi Mehta / Gavin O'Connor / Jennifer Todd
scr: Brad Ingelsby
cin: Eduard Grau
In which an alcoholic former star athlete is recruited by his alma mater to coach their losing basketball team. Solid addiction drama that identifies triggers, doesn't make excuses, recognizes not just cycles (I'm fine, I'm not fine, I'm spiraling, I'm fine) but also "evolutions" (sure, it's a coupla beers, but it's not drugs). Solid sports underdog drama about major improvements that won't necessarily change everyone's lives. Great character study of a man whose grief has mutated into a constant self-flagellation. Understated, mature, and hopeful. Just great.
She Dies Tomorrow
dir/scr: Amy Seimetz
pr: Justin Benson / David Lawson, Jr. / Aaron Moorhead / Amy Seimetz
cin: Jay Keitel
In which a woman becomes convinced that she is going to die tomorrow and spreads this fear to others. A curious kind of comedy (kind of) about depression and anxiety and how we can project that doom on people around us. Seimetz nails the frustration of trying to explain unexplainable, suffocating feelings, but she's also personified, with intelligence, humor, and empathy, the modern phenomenon of social media doom-scrolling, where, in the midst of a spiral, we find strangers online to reassure us that things really are bad and hopeless and shitty, they must be, we all see it! Funny without trivializing, dark but not hopeless, it's an oddly reassuring movie.
The Painted Bird
dir/scr: Václav Marhoul
pr: Aleksandr Kushaev / Václav Marhoul
cin: Vladimír Smutny
In which a young Jewish boy experiences every manner of cruelty in 1940s Europe. At one point, I started thinking of the Sweeney Todd lyric, "I have sailed the world and seen its wonders/For the cruelty of men is as wondrous as Peru," and it worked as both an apt description of and a distraction from what I was watching (I was still only one hour into this 2hr50min grief epic). It's a tough sit, and frankly, seems to relish too much in the horrors it depicts. Gorgeous cinematography, stunning sound design - it's at least meticulous in its exploitation.
House of Hummingbird
dir/scr: Bora Kim
pr: Zoe Sua Cho / Bora Kim
cin: Kook-hyun Kang
In which a young teen navigates life in 1994 Seoul. Perfect. Beautifully, unsentimentally, captures the uncertainty and general shittiness of the middle school years, the complexity of human relationships: some friendships are fleeting, some survive the worst; family is a mystery; teachers can change your life. You're flitting about, lost - and yet... You must see this movie, you must experience it.
Best of the Bunch: House of Hummingbird, She Dies Tomorrow, The Way Back