Yes, I know it’s 2021, but these are all movies from 2020. Going forward these reviews are going to be a mixture of 2020 stragglers and new 2021 releases, at least until the first quarter of the year is up. Once a 2021 movie enters the stratosphere of these reviews, the title will change to 2021 Movie Reviews but for now you’re stuck in 2020 and I don’t give a shit.
Miranda July‘s Kajillionaire is probably is the Sundance-iest movie I’ve seen all year, featuring offbeat characters forced out of their comfort zones to overcome obstacles heavily steeped in quirkiness and bright, colorful photography. Evan Rachel Wood delivers one of her best performances as Old Dolio, a teenage con artist from a family of con artists (Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins – both fantastic) who need to come up with a grift quickly, in order to pay their rent. Enter Melanie (Jane the Virgin‘s Gina Rodriguez – nomination worthy), a seemingly air-headed but deceptively smart twenty-something the crime family makes the mistake of underestimating. While Kajillionaire centers around some of the most fascinating fictional characters of the year, with the performances to match, the pacing suffers from weak connective tissue holding together 7-10 truly dynamite scenes. This is the rare instance when a film ends up being somehow less than the sum of its relatively outstanding parts. The circumstances leading the characters to these key set pieces lack a lot of plausibility and it’s difficult to ignore that. Still, Kajillionaire succeeds in being better than 90% of this year’s releases, almost entirely because of how well fleshed out the characters are. It never asks us to agree with them, it simply just asks us to see things from their perspective. I wish all movies were so generous to the souls that inhabit them. Grade: B+ ($5.99 rental on Amazon Prime)
I predict people will still be talking about Christopher Nolan‘s Tenet a hundred years from now. Not because it’s a particularly great or innovative film, but because it was possibly the last blockbuster theatrical release, ever. That being said, Earth really blew it on the finale. So far up its own ass it’s essentially french-kissing its own kidneys, Nolan‘s latest gets bogged down in its own confusing world logic of inverting objects so they law of physics but in reverse. I’m not a physicist, nor should I have to be in order to enjoy a fucking mainstream action movie. Look, no one is denying the indelible talent of master technician Christopher Nolan, I just wish his sort of interesting concept worked with a compelling narrative with at least 2D characters. The protagonist’s name is “Protagonist” for god’s sake. Not to take anything away from BlacKkKlansman‘s John David Washington who has proven here he’s the real fucking deal movie star, but the film doesn’t offer him much support.
The first 45 minutes or so of Tenet is extremely promising, superb visual storytelling, including truly innovative film editing that makes obligatory plot mechanizations its bitch, sucks us into the mystery of what this is all going to be about. That is until the first act ends and we settle into a generic Russian terrorist plot that seems plucked out of a 90s Jack Ryan picture. After that we jump from impressive action sequence to action sequence, each reminding more and more of what Nolan had already done with 2010s Inception. The supporting cast including Robert Pattinson and Widows‘ Elizabeth Deibicki are all solid in spite of everything, with exception of an uncharacteristically terrible Kenneth Branagh as the big bad. Part Bond villain, part Fearless Leader from The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Branagh‘s Russian terrorist is laughably ineffective and instantly forgettable. As is the film as a whole, besides the fact that it is probably the last big opening a movie theater will ever see. God help us. Grade: C ($5.99 rental on Amazon Prime)
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Speaking of up its own ass, Nolan‘s Tenet is the humblest boy at the dance compared to Aaron Sorkin‘s glorified 90s TV movie, The Trial of the Chicago 7. Featuring a dynamite ensemble, delivering mostly lackluster performances and ham-fisted dialogue (not so slick when slowed down to normal speed, huh Sorkin?), this tone-deaf screech for justice is both disrespectful to an audience expecting a deep dive into the dignity of the unfairly treated agitators and our country’s legacy of judicial failings, as well as disrespectful to the real life Chicago 7 whose ordeal was certainly more complicated and nuanced than Frank Langella wildly banging a gavel like he’s Animal from The Muppets while Eddie Redmayne reads the names of everyone who died in Vietnam, bringing both sides of the political spectrum together while rousing 4th of July stock music rages. There are some bright moments here and there, mostly stemming from some humorous dialogue and three or four strong performances, but it’s all bogged down by this shameless melodrama that treats the material like a telenovela. We can only hope that Aaron Sorkin didn’t miss the Party City rental return deadline for those awful fucking wigs. Grade: C- (NETFLIX)
Below is a half-assed assessment of all the performances cause I know you’d ask:
- Eddie Redmayne is as underwhelming as ever.
- The only thing Sacha Baron Cohen‘s Abby Hoffman is missing is a large carrot to chew on while he smirks “What’s up, doc?” It’s such a typically Hollywood, self-aware and over-the-top interpretation of a notable real life figure you just sit back and cringe
- Is Jeremy Strong good in ANYTHING outside of Succession?!?! Wow bro, ooof not oeuf.
- Mark Rylance probably gives the best performance of the film, he’s great and manages to resist the temptation to go full camp
- Joseph Gordon Levitt is wonderfully and realistically subdued until the final scene when he stands up and becomes a Team America marionette
- Watchmen‘s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is great and we want more of him, easily the smallest part of the ensemble that isn’t the one guy who they never develop.
- Frank Langella is a cartoon villain which is a shame because he’s capable of creating roles with infinitely more depth
- Character actor John Carroll Lynch, AKA Drew Carey‘s brother, hands in the best and most restrained performance of the Chicago 7
- Alex Sharp manages to be perfectly mediocre as Rennie Davis
- Daniel Flaherty‘s character doesn’t even get a line, does he? How are they going to just not develop one of these 7?
- Michael Keaton‘s extended cameo is the most Michaelest Keaton he’s ever Keatoned. He’s ok?
- No female characters huh? Besides the undercover cop lady we never learn anything about.
- If you want a better 2020 courtroom drama watch Steve McQueen‘s Mangrove on Amazon Prime. Better cast, more diverse cast, better dialogue, never feels like a TV movie.