More than halfway through 2020, and I'm finally talking about this year's releases, something I'm planning to do weekdays in August, five movies a day, in order of viewing. So let's start with:
dir: Stephen Gaghan
pr: Susan Downey / Jeff Kirschenbaum / Joe Roth
scr: Stephen Gaghan and Dan Gregor & Doug Mand, story by Thomas Shepherd
cin: Guillermo Navarro
In which Robert Downey, Jr., takes on the role of the doctor who literally talks to the animals, this time with a plotline involving the attempted assassination of Queen Victoria and a misunderstood boy who wants to apprentice with the good doctor. Surprised me, honestly: I wasn't expecting too much, but I found it an entertaining enough way to kill 90 minutes. Definitely feels like a movie that was tinkered with long after principal photography, and I doubt that, overall, it's the movie Downey and Co. set out to make. But I wasn't bored!
The Man Standing Next
dir/scr: Woo Min-ho
pr: Sarah Kang / Kim Won-guk / Woo Min-ho
cin: Ko Nak-sun
In which events push KCIA head Kim Kyu-pyeong (Lee Byung-hun) to assassinate President Park Chung-hee (Lee Sung-min). An engrossing, intelligent political thriller, whose only real demerit is in the English subtitles - one character is identified "US Ambassador Bob" - and that's hardly the fault of writer-director Woo Min-ho. The two Lees are exquisite as former comrades and conspirators suddenly at odds, Byung-hun at the center as a man scrambling to maintain his position under the guise democracy - and I believe it! You truly get the sense that the reason this guy seems so in over his head is because he's too idealistic, too short-sighted, too complacent, and not skilled enough to maintain order without bloodshed. It's Shakespearian tragedy, culminating in a heart-stopping final 15 minutes.
Birds of Prey...And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
dir: Cathy Yan
pr: Sue Kroll / Margot Robbie / Bryan Unkeless
scr: Christina Hodson
cin: Matthew Libatique
In which the DC Comics moll turns anti-hero with a little help from other Gotham City broads. Candy-colored and with a great soundtrack. There's a scene where Ewan McGregor abuses a girl in his club that is genuinely sickening without feeling exploitative or fetishistic. Part of me wishes the whole movie were so focused, so deliberate, as opposed to the scattershot collection of storylines, characters and tones that we're given...but I guess making sure that you know this is all from the POV of manic Harley allows the filmmakers some leeway. I'd like to see a sequel, albeit sans Harley.
Sonic the Hedgehog
dir: Jeff Fowler
pr: Toby Ascher / Takeshi Ito / Neal H. Moritz / Toru Nakahara
scr: Pat Casey & Josh Miller
cin: Stephen F. Windon
In which the titular hero comes to our world and befriends a small town sheriff while on the run from a government-sponsored psycho. Let's start with the bad: Tika Sumpter is more or less wasted here, and her sister's hatred of James Marsden makes no sense. And that's it for the bad. The most surprising movie of the year, Sonic is sweet and exciting and funny, cleverly incorporating elements of the original SEGA game and subsequent animated series without feeling too beholden to either. It feels like a throwback to kids' movies of the early 90s (think 3 Ninjas or Dennis the Menace), which makes the presence of Jim Carrey as a comically deranged Dr. Robotnik all the more welcome. Such a treat!
Brahms: The Boy II
dir: William Brent Bell
pr: Matt Berenson / Roy Lee / Gary Lucchesi / Eric Reid / Tom Rosenberg / Jim Wedaa / Richard Wright
scr: Stacey Menear
cin: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
In which the porcelain doll of The Boy returns to wreak havoc on a new family. Retcons the "gotcha" of the first film to build a mythology that the filmmakers must be hoping can rival that of Annabelle. It's not interesting enough to work, and it's further hobbled by the worst child acting I've seen in quite some time. A pity, I really liked the first one.
Best of the Bunch: The Man Standing Next, Sonic the Hedgehog