My mom has a new kitchen, and I have some new thoughts on new films.
dir/scr: Prentice Penny
pr: Jill Ahrens / Ryan Ahrens / Jason Michael Berman / Prentice Penny / Chris Pollack / Ben Renzo / Datari Turner
cin: Elliot Davis
In which the son of a BBQ restaurateur seeks to strike out on his own as a sommelier. The rare achievement of feeling like we've been plopped down in the middle of someone's story: these characters lived before the movie begins and will live long after it ends. Events unfold without great fanfare; it's a film about gradual steps, about trying and failing and trying again, small victories and great grief, perfectly captured by the unassuming yet effective performance by leading man Mamoudou Athie. He's matched by Courtney B. Vance and Niecy Nash as, respectively, his frustrated and supportive parents; Sasha Compère as his supportive and sometimes frustrated girlfriend; and, in a small role, Kelly Jenrette as the quietly frustrated sister who wonders why he gets to be praised for trying while she gets diddly for doing. And it's that latter detail that I like: Prentice Penny doesn't miss a beat, no matter how small; everyone has a story. A Netflix Original.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
dir: David Dobkin
pr: Jessica Elbaum / Will Ferrell / Chris Henchy
scr: Will Ferrell & Andrew Steele
cin: Danny Cohen
In which a pair of Icelandic losers find themselves representing their country at the annual Eurovision Song Contest. At its best, the Eurovision Song Contest (actual) is the most uncynical, wide-eyed celebration of music you'll ever witness. It makes sense, then, that Eurovision Song Contest (movie) is at its best when showcasing the music, focusing on its power to allow expression, distraction, catharsis, and celebration. The mid-film pop medley featuring real-life former winners, Sigrit's climactic solo, and even the pub regulars demanding "Jaja Ding Dong" on repeat, show us the various ways music helps us come alive. The rest is...OK, mostly buoyed by Rachel McAdams' game performance and a smattering of good jokes. Subplots mostly feel like extra fat (do we need a villain, however amusing his motives?), Will Ferrell seems tired, it looks awfully cheap. But when this movie sings, it brings down the house. A Netflix Original.
dir/scr: Alan Yang
pr: Poppy Hanks / Charles D. King / Kim Roth / Alan Yang
cin: Nigel Bluck
In which a Taiwanese man looks back on the events that led him to marry the wrong woman and move to the United States. Lee Hong-chi walks away with the movie as the younger version of our hero, sexy and full of dreams, who comes to America for opportunity and misses his life one workday at a time. Wisely, Alan Yang does not make this a story of one man's struggle, giving us long looks into his wife's own struggles to adjust to her new life, as well as the after-effects on the next generation, even into adulthood. There is ache in every element, from the story to the production design to Bluck's cinematography; unfortunately, not every performer seems up to the material, so that handicaps things a bit. Overall, though, a very moving tribute to parents who compromised, for better and for worse. A Netflix Original.
dir: Dan Scanlon
pr: Kori Rae
scr: Dan Scanlon & Jason Headley & Keith Bunin
cin: Sharon Calahan / Adam Habib
In which two - what are they, elves? - go on a journey to bring their dead father back for one day. It's fine, it's not embarrassing, some of the urban fantasy world-building stuff is really creative, but it's...I don't know, it just kind of feels like standard plot elements clicking into place, clickity-clack-clack. Competent but dull.
dir: Kris Pearn / Rob Lodermeier
pr: Luke Carroll / Brenda Gilbert
scr: Kris Pearn and Mark Stanleigh, story by Kris Pearn
cin: Sebastian Brodin
In which the titular children plot to separate themselves from their uncaring parents, with results both zany and dangerous. Not every child grows up with good parents; not every parent deserves to keep their children merely because of DNA. So I'm glad that there's a children's film that sees these kids, tells them, "You're not alone," and doesn't make it into maudlin tragedy, but into something they can find the humor in. It's important! People need to laugh! An aces voice cast, eye-popping design work, and a great score punctuated by Alessia Cara's "I Choose." Delightful! A Netflix Original.
Best of the Bunch: Uncorked