The last day of our 2020 reviews - the final five of the year!
David Byrne's American Utopia
dir: Spike Lee
pr: David Byrne / Spike Lee
scr: David Byrne
cin: Ellen Kuras
A concert film, and like many a concert (I confess I don't care for them), there are moments of boredom, moments of pure vibing, and moments where you feel yourself so spiritually lifted it's as thought you've crossed time and space and are communicating with the past and the future simultaneously, all is as it's been, just and unjust, interconnected. The run from "I Dance Like This" through "Bullet" to "Every Day is a Miracle" was this for me. Pared-down but not simplistic, a filmed concert that Lee cleverly makes into a cinematic experience, it's a valentine to music and theater, a plea for interaction. On HBOMax.
dir/scr: Takeshi Fukunaga
pr: Harue Miyake / Eric Nyari
cin: Sean Price Williams
A boy feels conflict between his native Ainu heritage and upbringing, and the knock-knock of modern Japan. He talks of wanting to leave Ainu behind and go to a Japanese school; at the same time, he's grieving his father, who believed in these traditions and beliefs, felt those ties to ancestry...to participate is, perhaps, to bring them closer, transcend death. Film also addresses heritage as tourist novelty. I love the scene where our hero's mother, a shopkeeper, takes a compliment from a tourist that her Japanese is surprisingly good; just a scene or two before, we saw her in a night class with adults carefully studying her "native" Ainu. There's also a scene where a band kid complains about doing Ainu songs because it's "expected," and throughout, the village debates whether or not to continue with a controversial yet important ceremony because it would be bad press. The film does not take one side or the other, but acknowledges and presents the gulf. A quality family film. On Netflix.
News of the World
dir: Paul Greengrass
pr: Gary Goetzman / Gregory Goodman / Gail Mutrux
scr: Paul Grengrass and Luke Davies
cin: Dariusz Wolski
Post-Civil War, A professional traveling newsreader is tasked with bringing an orphan girl across Texas territory to her surviving relatives. Another sturdy Tom Hanks performance; he really is in the greatest decade of his career, ever since 2013. An appeal for healing that comes at just the right time: in the film, there are average citizens and scalawags all licking their wounds from the Civil War, there are atrocities being committed against Blacks and Indigenous people; Hanks' captain believes that by reading true tales from places near and far, all might find a common humanity, universal experiences of love and loss, empathy. You'll love it; I can't imagine who wouldn't like such a beautiful, expertly-made film.
One Night in Miami...
dir: Regina King
pr: Jess wu Calder / Keith Calder / Jody Klein
scr: Kemp Powers
cin: Tami Reiker
Malcolm X gathers Jim Brown, Cassius Clay, and Sam Cooke in a hotel room one fateful night. It's one of my favorite subgenres, men in suits debating! How often do we get to sit down and enjoy people discussing real ideas, discuss the realities of being Black in America and how you fight back...or don't. Kingsley Ben-Adir (as Malcolm X) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (as Sam Cooke) are strong as the center points, but I was taken with Aldis Hodge's watchful performance as Jim Brown - from his very first scene, where he walks on eggshells, lets his guard down, receives a sock to the gut, Hodge delivers a spectacular, tightly controlled performance. On Amazon Prime.
Promising Young Woman
dir/scr: Emerald Fennell
pr: Tom Ackerley / Ben Browning / Emerald Fennell / Ashley Fox / Josey McNamara / Margot Robbie
cin: Benjamin Kracun
A woman seeks vengeance on behalf of her best friend, a victim of rape. A fucked-up sense of humor pulses throughout, but even in its lightest moments, just beneath its candy-colored decor, there is rage and sorrow, grief by way of self-immolation. As thrilling as her vengeance-taking is, its catharsis of comeuppance is always caught short by the "what next" or "now what" - it can never be properly satisfied: revenge, after all, is a dish best served cold, and Cassie is burning with rage. A clever evisceration of "nice guys" and their excuses, of society's enabling, of institutional laziness. Enraging and entertaining!
Tomorrow, the full list of the films qualifying for the Hollmann Awards. Monday, my Top Ten. Tuesday, the nominees.