Hello, all, and welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan! It’s been quite a while since I’ve had anything new published on this blog, and I do apologize for that. In my own defense, however, I finally landed my first job as a film critic working for Bitesize Review! They are a social-media based entertainment review network specializing in 100-word-or-less takes on everything from film and television to gaming and music; hell, they even have reviews for podcasts! It has been a great joy to work with them on a trial run these past couple of months, and I am sure it will continue to be just as much a joy going forward as one of their official writers. All that to say, there are several films I have not reviewed on this blog which will also not appear in either of these next “Mini Reviews” posts and will not be receiving their own full reviews – that is because I already reviewed them for Bitesize! I will post the links to those reviews, as well as other pieces I have written for them, below both this piece and the forthcoming Mini Reviews #3 (so watch out for that).
For those of you who are unfamiliar with how these Mini Review segments work (after all, it’s been quite some time since the last one, so a refresher might be in order), these are short, two-or-three-sentence takes on films for which I did not write up full reviews on this blog. Occasionally, this can be due to feeling that the films are not quite urgent enough in the public consciousness to discuss at length – and thus the films are reserved for the next round of Mini Reviews to come – but most of the time, these things come about because I find myself too short on time and will not be able to devote full pieces to many of these films (no matter how much I might wish to in the moment). With all that out of the way, let’s get this show on the road. Here is the second round of Mini Reviews for the year 2020!
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Love Wedding Repeat
This Netflix rom-com, releases sometime around the nationwide shutdown of U.S. theaters (I forget exactly when) might seem ambitious on its surface, but feels almost brutally lackluster in the aftermath. The performances are all well-to-do, especially those of Sam Claflin and Olivia Munn, but almost none of the characters retain any sense of gravitas or memorability beyond their respective archetypes (the best friend, the bride, the one who want to sleep with everyone, etc). You could maybe do worse for romantic comedies in 2020, but it wouldn’t be by very much. 5.4/10.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
While HBO’s Unpregnant tried (and somewhat succeeded) to capture a story like this with a more comedic flare, it’s Eliza Hittman’s absolutely staggering abortion drama, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, that takes the cake between the two. So much that is unspoken here is so brilliantly clear, and the lead performance of Sidney Flanigan is a pure tour-de-force that must be seen to be fully understood or appreciated. This film is positively stunning, wonderfully sensitive, unexpectedly brutal, and quietly moving, marking a giant leap forward both for its director and star, and crowning itself with ease as one of the unmistakably best movies of the year thus far. 9.8/10.
The Grudge (2020)
Having never seen the original Grudge films, I cannot state in good conscience that this film did not capture the horror those films wrought, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear anyone else say it with resounding conviction. The film has very little going for it, and never picks up along the way, despite John Cho trying his best to look interested in what he’s doing. As a remake, I have no idea how it stacks up, but as a horror movie in general, it’s one of the worst I’ve seen based off of previously established IP. 3.4/10.
This half-French/half-English language film from director Hirokazu Koreeda features nice, nuanced performances from Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, and Ethan Hawke, but at the end of the day, feels a little more empty than I would have liked. There are things to recommend in this movie, and it’s got a great scene where Deneuve’s character is rehearsing for a new film she’s in, but there’s little else to recommend beyond having a few talented actors on screen together for a few hours. Perhaps I’ll feel differently if I ever watch it again, but for now, I can’t see myself being eager to give this one a re-visit. 7.6/10.
If there were ever any doubt of Hugh Jackman’s performance chops outside of Broadway or post-Wolverine, let this film put all those doubts to rest. Bad Education may not have the scale or budget of most theatrically-released fare, but it’s got more intrigue, fun, and sleazy good times than most of those put out in their entire theatrical runs. Allison Janney shows up to bat clean-up behind Jackman (and nearly steal the show) but it’s Hugh’s vehicle all the way to the finish, and it’s one of the finest finishes of his or HBO’s delicious slates. 9.3/10.
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
How good is the Shaun the Sheep franchise (is it a franchise now?) that the original film can get a Best Animated Feature nod at the Oscars, and its direct-to-Netflix sequel is good enough that I wouldn’t be surprised to see it show up for its own nomination? Farmageddon is exceedingly simple, but deceptively clever, a great bit of fun for both kids and adults, and a solid showcase for Ardman Animation’s unique style as a new jewel for Netflix. If you enjoy visual storytelling, and especially if you enjoy animation, seek this one out. 8.6/10.
Many critics have this on their “best-of” lists at this point in the year, and it’s not hard to see why. This film is uniquely suited to the introduction of a profoundly creative and consistently intriguing story with great performances and a constant sense of something coming down the pike. For me, though, it’s a little too clever by half, and this eats into the film’s overall value. It’s so concerned with announcing a bold new voice in filmmaking (not the filmmaker themselves, but the style they’ve chosen to employ) that it loses, in some small way, a sense of completion, like all the elements are there and are good, but aren’t quite finished in the final product. Perhaps it just didn’t grab me in the way I thought it might, but I can only be honest about how I felt afterwards. Pretty good, but not exactly arresting or mind-blowing. 7.6/10.
Another critical darling of the moment that I felt was just pretty good, The Outpost captures its adaptation of journalist Jake Tapper’s non-fiction account of a Taliban attack on an Afghanistan military base with surprising nuance, but doesn’t ultimately end up doing or saying anything with that nuance other than “this is what happened.” It’s all presented well, and the film does get solid performances out of Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, and Orlando Bloom (hey, where’s that guy been?), but the commitment to no-bullshit realism and averseness to entertainment fluff does hurt the film a little bit in its overall dramatic impact. Still, the latter half of the film when the attack is taking place is a pretty visceral piece of filmmaking, and other war movies would do well to take note of director Rod Lurie’s stripped-down approach to modern military combat encounters. 7.2/10.
This horror flick, which features the supremely underrated Emily Mortimer, pulls some clever tricks we haven’t seen done quite this way before, even if the tricks themselves are ones with which we’re familiar as an audience. However, beyond the frame, after the credits have rolled, one doesn’t get the sense that the film’s commentary on aging or embrace of decay as horror fuel was very clear most of the way through. It’s one of those times when exiting the film that one might think a certain message was being put across, but it’s unclear exactly when or how that message was meant to be communicated. It’s a solid matinee feature if you’re looking for a horror fix, but it won’t be counted among the Hereditarys or Lighthouses of the genre. 7.7/10.
And that is it for Mini Reviews #2! Have you seen any of these films? What did you think of them? Sound off in the comments section below, and be sure to check out my other reviews on films this year at the Bitesize Review links down below! Thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time.