Thursday, January 7, 2021

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Netflix-Heavy: 2020, Day Sixteen

Five more 2020 films....

The Devil All the Time
dir: Antonio Campos
pr: Max Born / Jake Gyllenhaal / Riva Marker / Randall Poster
scr: Antonio Campos & Paulo Campos
cin: Lol Crawley

Intersecting stories of violence and corruption in southern Ohio and West Virginia in the mid-20th century. It's bloody, often tasteless, and has the loopiest assemblage of accents you've ever heard. There're only two truly decent characters, and of course, no good comes to them. Many uncomfortable scenes humiliating people who don't deserve it. A prologue that pays off but, honestly, could have been much shorter. A squirmy, brutal movie, narrated by its source novel's author Donald Ray Pollock in a weary manner similar to Tommy Lee Jones describing his dream at the end of No Country for Old Men. It's a movie that sits just right for me. On Netflix.

The Forty-Year-Old Version // Over the Moon
dir: Radha Blank // dir: Glen Keane / John Khars
pr: Inuka Bacote-Capiga / Radha Blank / Jordan Fudge / Rishi Rajani / Jennifer Semler / Lena Waithe // pr: Peilin Chou / Gennie Rim 
scr: Radha Blank // scr: Audrey Wells, add'l material by Jennifer Yee McDevitt & Alice Wu
cin: Eric Branco

I take these two together because I had very similar reactions. The Forty-Year-Old Version stars the writer-director Radha Blank as a formerly-promising playwright, still struggling, who discovers and pursues a rap career while simultaneously overseeing a compromised production of one of her plays. Over the Moon is an animated musical following teenage Fei Fei, who builds a rocket to the moon to prove the existence of the moon goddess Chang'e, a favorite legend her mother told her growing up. Both films deal with the aftermath of the loss of a parent and the ways our heroines channel their grief. With Radha, the loss is recent, she's vulnerable, a little volatile, and kind of flailing around in search of herself. Added to that is the fact that her mother was, in Radha's opinion, a failed artist, stretched thin by responsibilities and unloved by the white critical establishment: not for Radha the same path, though she bristles at the compromises she has to make in order for her play Harlem Ave. to appeal to the rich whites who can afford theatre tickets. With Fei Fei, it's been four years, but the mooncakes her family restaurant makes are from her mother's recipes, keeping her memory alive; when Dad brings home his girlfriend and hopeful bride-to-be, Fei Fei feels the memory of her mother is betrayed, even more so when Dad dismisses the Chang'e tale as just that - a tale. Her pursuit of the moon goddess is not juvenile fancy, but clinging to the last remnants of someone whose memory she feels will be lost forever. Too, Chang'e is mourning the loss of her earthbound love, Houyi, her grief populating the moon with her tears, keeping her from connecting to those she rules over; she has turned mourning into an obsession.

In both films, music becomes the outlet through which the women can express themselves. Radha raps throughout, most significantly railing against mainstream expectations with the pointed "Poverty Porn," and it is through rap that she finally processes her grief, in a climactic freestyle about selling-out that gets to her fears, frustrations, and loss she's experiencing. There are songs a-plenty in Over the Moon - Fei Fei lays out her mom-focused mission in "Rocket to the Moon" while Chang'e mourns Houyi in "Yours Forever" - and the film turns on "Love Someone New," a duet between the two mutually talking through their grief, helping each other through the pain. The ways in which we express our loss (Radha's gifts as a writer help with her rap, Fei Fei's engineering enables her to build a rocket), the anger and confusion afterward, the concern with the deceased's legacy, the path to acceptance...these are all present in both films, and they were very much present for me this year. I think, with their good humor and sensitivity, both movies helped me through it all. On Netflix.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
dir: Jason Woliner
pr: Sacha Baron Cohen / Zach Golden / Anthony Hines / Monica Levinson / Chris Rose / Evan Weinstein
scr: Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Swimer & Peter Baynham & Erica Rivinoja & Dan Mazer & Jena Friedman & Lee Kern, story by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Swimer & Nina Pedrad
cin: Luke Geissbuhler

Borat returns to the United States, this time with his estranged daughter. Once again, a testament to just how long people will bite down on their tongues when there are cameras present and a sale to make. And once again, oftentimes the camera's targets are making fools of themselves. A point can be made, I'm sure, that Borat just reaffirms their biases, but it doesn't take much for some people. As risible and surprising and hilarious as the first; you probably already know if this is your cup of tea or not. On Amazon Prime. 

American Murder: The Family Next Door
dir: Jenny Popplewell

Documentary on the investigation into the disappearance and murders of a woman and her two children, told solely through archival footage, no talking heads. An assemblage of text messages, social media posts, police surveillance footage, and newscasts highlights not just the importance of perception and public opinion, even on a small, friends-only scale, but the speed with which information is disseminated and "hot takes" given in this modern age. Is it even six months between her last sighting and the killer's sentencing? Jesus, and what a piece of work that guy is, this mediocre moron smugly chewing gum throughout his wedding video, whose main motivation seems to be that the processes of divorce and custody and moving and explaining would be too hard, so better to just murder your own family and assume no one's gonna look too deeply into it. The entitlement, the laziness, the audacity! On Netflix.

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