With Covid-19 and everything, it’s easy to forget new movies are still being released and while the current stress of the situation has driven me to plunge into the home-y comforts of classic movies I’ve seen a jillion times, I took some time this past weekend to catch three 2020 releases.
Every year or so on the awards roster, we get this kind of absurdist, indie anti-comedy that can go either way. At its most successful, you end up with something unexpectedly poignant that delivers its social messages in new, creative ways – Yorgos Lathinmos‘ The Lobster. At it’s least successful, you end up with something so brazenly self-assured and incoherent that it can’t even attach to a theme long enough to mine for poignancy – Darren Aronofosky‘s mother!. While Charlie Kaufman‘s I’m Thinking of Ending Things certainly scratched that itch this year, I’d argue Lawrence Michael Devine‘s Black Bear does it far better. Separated into two distinct parts where the same actors play different but very similar characters, Black Bear is set entirely in a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains with Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbot and a handful of other fairly unknown actors. Abbot gives us predictably solid work, but the real standout here is Plaza, giving us the kind of fearless, crazy, balls to walls but completely dialed in performance method actors are often known for. It was also filmed using only solar energy, batteries and a diesel generator, so you know, support that! Grade: B+ ($5.99 rental on Amazon Prime)
Subtle domestic dramas that rely almost entirely on the micro expressions of celebrated character actors is totally my jam. When I saw this trailer, showcasing what seemed like two powerful yet restrained performances by Carrie Coon and Jude Law, as well as a critic quote calling it “hyper nuanced”, I instantly got a chub. Sean Durkin‘s follow-up to his superb 2011 sex cult thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene, delivers on its promise of something both engaging and nuanced, a story about an upper middle class couple on the verge of divorce, uprooted from the states to the gorgeous but eerily isolated English countryside. Set in the 1980s when Reaganism reigned supreme, the husband is a classic Type A personality narcissist who is of course, a fucking stock trader. Living way above his means and riding on that upcoming check that never seems to arrive, his wife begins to suspect their entire life is built on bullshit. She’s right. What ensues is a tense series of some of the most realistic marital confrontations I’ve seen, in a film that finely details the corrosive effect capitalist greed can have on the family unit. My only gripe is that they didn’t flesh out the child characters more. The Nest merely touches upon the effects an absentee father and a life anchored by material possessions can have on developing minds. Grade: A- ($4.99 rental on Amazon Prime)
Ryan Murphy‘s latest Netflix project, an adaptation of what I’m assuming is a pretty lackluster Broadway musical, is a grandiose, candy-colored CGI-laden shart. Featuring a laundry list of glamorous celebrities with surprisingly little to do, well-intentioned social messages and mostly dreadful musical numbers, The Prom is instantly forgettable. James Corden has received the lion’s share of the hate for this as he’s appropriating gay culture, but to be honest, he probably gives the most genuine performance of the bunch. Meryl Streep phones it in hard as the stereotypically shallow Broadway actress, Nicole Kidman is given practically nothing to do, Kerry Washington is good but inexplicably cast in the role of the Rural America bigot, and Keegan Michael Key is the worst of the bunch (it hurts me SO MUCH to say that), blowing shit on vocals and not faring much better in acting. The Book of Mormon‘s Andrew Rannells is solid and takes the lead on the funniest sequence of the film, set at a Monster Truck Rally and the teen actors are better than most of the seasoned pros. I love the idea of a musical about gay teens fighting for an inclusive prom, but the material isn’t weighty enough to give the traumatic reality of getting disowned by your parents for something you have no control over the respect it deserves. Grade: D+ (NETFLIX)
On the Next 2020 Movie Reviews…
- Netflix’s 1920s Chicago set drama about jazz musicians starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
- Amazon Prime’s micro-budget indie horror film about a mysterious radio frequency (I’m thinking aliens) – The Vast of Night
- The screenwriter of Moonstruck and Doubt returns to bring us an incoherent love story about two hot Irish farmers played by Jamie Dornan and Emily Blunt – Wild Mountain Thyme