Wednesday, January 6, 2021

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Mostly True...Mostly: 2020, Day Fifteen

Five more 2020 films, three of them inspired by true events!

The Trial of the Chicago 7
dir/scr: Aaron Sorkin
pr: Stuart M. Besser / Matt Jackson / Marc Platt / Tyler Thompson
cin: Phedon Papamichael

Old-school, meat-and-potatoes filmmaking. As a director, Sorkin gets out of the way of the material; fortunately, it's his material, and typically of his brand, it's witty, passionately moral, proudly patriotic. He's both a great and odd fit for the subject: the edges of late-60s radicals and their rhetoric are sanded-down, making for a digestible portrayal that speaks about the importance of protest and the government's history of racism, targeted harassment, and calculated miscarriages of justice. Citizens should always demand better, that's the purported philosophy behind this nation! Great performances from the ensemble. On Netflix.

The Witches
dir: Robert Zemeckis
pr: Alfonso CuarĂ³n / Guillermo del Toro / Luke Kelly / Jack Rapke / Robert Zemeckis
scr: Robert Zemeckis & Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro
cin: Don Burgess

Kid and his grandmother run afoul of a coven of witches. A throwback to mid-to-late-90s family films, as I remember them anyway. Big orchestral score, earnestly over-the-top child acting, fat jokes, fart jokes, general zaniness. What is Anne Hathaway doing? No idea, that accent work is a Zelig-morphing horror-show. What is Octavia Spencer doing? Running the thing, an unexpected heroine. What is Josette Simon doing? Stealing the damn show. Colorful costumes, sets, performances; sadistic ending. Not for everyone's tastes, it's true, a messy mixed bag of choices both inventive and face-smackingly stupid. On HBOMax.

dir: Justin Baldoni
pr: Justin Baldoni / Casey La Scala / Andrew Lazar
scr: Kara Holden, story by Casey La Scala & Patrick Kopka and Kara Holden
cin: Ben Kutchins

Biopic of teenage singer-songwriter Zach Sobiech, whose music went viral before he died from cancer at 18. While it doesn't shy away from the realities of in-plain-sight approaching death, the film is first and foremost a celebration: of music, of love romantic and platonic and familial, of life in all its messiness. Young leads Fin Argus, Sabrina Carpenter (as Zach's writing partner, bandmate, and best friend) and Madison Iseman (as Zach's girlfriend) are wonderful together. Baldoni's understated approach, his grounding of the performances, makes sure that whatever tears are shed - and there are plenty! - are earned, not manipulated. On Disney+.

I Am Woman
dir: Unjoo Moon
pr: Rosemary Blight / Unjoo Moon
scr: Emma Jensen
cin: Dion Beebe

Biopic of singer Helen Reddy. Paint-by-numbers biopic structure is surprisingly vague; one is left with an impression of Reddy's influence and impact, rather than a full picture. You can't question the sincerity of it, though, and perhaps that's why the film is strongest when it focuses on female extras nodding, recognizing themselves in Reddy's music. As a breakthrough for leading lady Tilda Cobham-Hervey and calling card for both director Unjoo Moon and fellow producer Rosemary Blight (look what they pull off on a low budget): very promising, indeed! On Netflix.

dir: John Whitesell
pr: McG [!?!] / Mary Viola
scr: Tiffany Paulsen
cin: Shane Hurlbut

Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey agree to be each other's plus-one for holiday events, no feelings allowed, but of course... A week or two after watching, I heard that it was meant to be a parody of holiday rom-com telefilms, which would explain its odd assemblage of holidays, bizarre plot developments, and cruder-than-usual humor. Parody or not, it mostly didn't work for me: those bizarre plot developments are just a mess, the crude humor feels forced, the chemistry between the leads feels more naturally platonic than romantic. Jessica Capshaw acquits herself quite well as Roberts' married sister. On Netflix.

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