The look at 2020 so far continues with a bunch of movies I watched on my couch.
The High Note
dir: Nisha Ganatra
pr: Tim Bevan / Eric Fellner
scr: Flora Greeson
cin: Jason McCormick
In which a singer's assistant takes her first steps into producing. Does anyone need to be told that Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross are terrific? Each has already proven themselves able to spark chemistry with any screen partner you throw at them; together, they are unstoppable, a team that makes you yearn for the days when Hollywood would pair people up over and over again. Give them a heist flick! A Carol-style romantic drama! A body swap comedy! Bangin' soundtrack, and a special bonus point for showcasing parts of my own neighborhood! The thrill of living in LA....
The Wild Goose Lake
dir/scr: Diao Yi'nan
pr: Li Li / Yang Shen
cin: Dong Jingsong
In which a gang member goes on the run all over Wuhan. I've never watched a Diao Yi'nan film before, and perhaps because of this, there was a lot of this movie that I just didn't get. The moments I loved, I loved: the opening sequence with the gang meeting and subsequent challenge; the incredibly choreographed night market shootout; the performances by Kwei Lun-mei and Regina Wan: wow! This is why we go to the movies! Then there are moments that, as impressive as the execution is, feel...odd: the zoo sequence, the fight with the umbrella, the swimming sperm. What's the point of it all?
Da 5 Bloods
dir: Spike Lee
pr: Jon Kilik / Spike Lee / Beatriz Levin / Lloyd Levin
scr: Danny Bilson & Paul De Meo and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
cin: Newton Thomas Sigel
In which a group of Black vets return to Vietnam to find the gold stashed by their friend and leader killed in action. Delroy Lindo gives a towering performance, the decades of bitter disappointment in his taut jaw, his eyes burning with fury and exhaustion. He's matched by Clarke Peters, peaceful, calming, who's put all his hurt into healing. I like the novelty of hearing the humanized (!) Vietnamese soldiers talk about their wives and girlfriends before the American invaders open fire, Lindo's fourth-wall-breaking soliloquy, Veronica Ngo's haunting appearances as radio personality Hanoi Hannah, the shocking narrative turns showing the long-lasting consequences of war - and not just psychological! Spike Lee knocked me out with this one, man. Available on Netflix!
dir: Kenneth Branagh
pr: Kenneth Branagh / Judy Hofflund
scr: Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl
cin: Haris Zambarloukos
In which a child genius must rescue his father with the help of mythical faeries and the like. Main character is a smug little shit. The rest of it is fine enough, but boy howdy, the things they choose to explain three or four times over...what goldfish executive demanded that voiceover? Available on Disney+!
The King of Staten Island
dir: Judd Apatow
pr: Judd Apatow / Barry Mendel
scr: Judd Apatow & Pete Davidson & Dave Sirus
cin: Robert Elswit
In which drifting fuck-up Pete Davidson starts to man up. Not unfamiliar terrain for Apatow, though it mostly eschews pointless cameos, tangents, and excuse-making in favor of a genuine study of how trauma and depression can fuck you up, allowing you to make consciously bad decisions because you feel you don't deserve better. An honest film with a baby-steps arc.
Best of the Bunch: Da 5 Bloods