Mini Reviews #3 (2020)
Hello, once again, and welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan! I hope you all were able to enjoy the last segment in this series, and that you all got a chance to check out the work I’ve done for Bitesize Review which I have linked thus far (additional review links at the bottom of this post)! Be sure to follow that page on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to keep up with all of our reviews on movies, tv, games, and more! And now, onto the topic at hand.
For those of you who read the last one of these, you all know how this works, but for those who have not yet been able to do so, or haven’t read a piece in this series before, I will explain the situation. Mini Review segments are those that I write whenever I find myself unable to commit the necessary time to writing full reviews of various films which I have watched throughout a given year. Some of them I do wish I had the time to write a full review for, but such is life that it moves on anyway, and so the Mini Reviews segments earn their necessity on this blog. Oftentimes, there will be up to ten selections in a given post, occasionally less (and rarely more). They consist of a few sentences about each film, as well as a score out of 10, with up to one decimal point for greater and mor nuanced specificity in the ratings. Slight disclaimer: this particular one will be a little Netflix-heavy at the outset, but such is the order in which I watched these films. Now that all of that has been cleared up, let’s begin, shall we?
The Half of It
From director Alice Wu comes The Half of It, a smartly written and genuinely sweet romantic comedy the likes of which Netflix hasn’t made since the first To All the Boys (and, to be honest, this one’s a better movie). It’s got some dents in it here and there, but for the most part, the film refuses to dilute its characters down to one-dimensional beings, even those who at first might seem a little dull. The performances of leads Leah Lewis and Daniel Diemer are excellent, and the pair have a terrific platonic chemistry that never feels overindulged or underdeveloped. This is my favorite rom-com of the year so far, and it will likely take a miracle to topple it off the top of that list. 8.8/10.
Da 5 Bloods
I really wanted to love Spike Lee’s Vietnam War epic, but in the end it didn’t end up grabbing me quite as much as I’d hoped, so in that sense, I mostly just respect it a great deal. Lee proves once again that he’s one of the absolute best in the business at telling fresh, unmistakably Black stories, and the performances he pulls out of his cast here are as exceptional as any in his other movies, especially from Delroy Lindo, who could be a lock for an Oscar nomination come March. It’s a real shame we lost Chadwick Boseman so soon, too, as his performance in this (while small) is almost just as good, projecting his trademark regality the way his performances always did. Not everything about this movie works 100%, but what does work is so good, it more than makes up for the rest. 8.6/10.
The Vast of Night
Following in the footsteps of things like Close Encounters and Contact, Amazon’s absorbing radio thriller The Vast of Night is a mesmerizing journey through sound. Set in a little town in New Mexico during the 50’s, the clear and precise vision of director Andrew Patterson guides this film like a monorail toward a truly dazzling, if slightly underwhelming, conclusion. The technical and performance elements of the film are firing on all cylinders all the time, and even the set-up before the plot really gets started is almost impossible not to watch. Once that main plot does start, though, you’re in for a truly memorable ride. 8/10.
Originally slated to come out theatrically in April, the pandemic movie theater shut down forced Paramount to sell this star-lead comedy to Netflix, a move which in hindsight might have worked out better for the studio anyway. The trailer for the film teased a fun comedy with some solid jokes and a hilarious mystery; the movie itself only made good on about a third of that. Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae have great comic and romantic chemistry as the leads of the film, but ultimately, the story doesn’t really go anywhere interesting, taking the most obvious route in any direction it turns and dropping entire plot points as it stumbles toward some sort of conclusion that even the film doesn’t seem to know how to pull off. It doesn’t help, either, that a good few of the jokes fell pretty flat, and some that were in the trailer (a few of the good ones) never actually made it through the edit bay. There’s a great version of this movie somewhere in one of those script drafts; unfortunately, it isn’t in this one. 5.6/10.
Netflix sort of tries their hand at the superhero movie here, and manages to pull off some pretty cool stuff, but not enough to make this anymore than just another “Netflix movie.” The performances are all mostly good, and clearly Jaimie Foxx is having a lot of fun, but apart from the star of discovery that is Dominique Fishback, there’s just not a whole lot to recommend. Some sequences are cool, but they only last about 45 seconds in total screen time, and others are obscured by what’s clearly budget-saving camerawork (there’s even one in a power tank that’s supposed to feel impressive because it’s all one shot, but actually just hides Jaimie Foxx’s fight going on outside so they don’t have to choreograph or shoot that sequence another way). It’s a fine movie, but it’s also the most “Netflix” version of a superhero movie that there is. Whether that’s something you can roll with is up to you. 6.2/10.
Cut Throat City
I recognize I’m largely in the minority on this one, but past the first act Cut Throat City gets so convoluted and difficult to follow, it’s as if the movie itself went through its own hurricane. Set in New Orleans during the aftermath of Katrina, the story follows Shameik Moore and his crew as they attempt to pull off an ambitious heist for a drug lord they know. RZA, who directed the film, shows some promise as a filmmaker, but is let way too loose with a narrative this complex, even on this smaller scale. Ethan Hawke and Eiza González show up to try to give the film some legitimacy, and Wesley Snipes does what he can, but the script is overly complicated and the characters are under-developed outside of Moore and his crew. This could have been a hidden gem, but alas, it’s just one of those “came and went” forgotten pieces. 4.3/10.
Kelly Reichardt directed this film for A24, and while it may not be for everyone, it fulfilled virtually every task it set out to complete in the best way it could have completed them. The performances of John Magaro and Orion Lee are fantastic, brilliantly nuanced and exactly as slightly off-kilter as a movie like this demands. The true standout, though (besides the cow), is the cinematography of DP Christopher Blauvelt, who shoots the early American landscapes with such grace and clear love for the land. There are other films I may have personally like more this year, but there have been none that measure up to their own goals quite as well as this. 10/10.
She Dies Tomorrow
An experimental horror from writer/director Amy Seimetz, She Dies Tomorrow finds its strength in its non-narrative storytelling. There is a story, but it has more to do with how things are loosely connected than following one character the whole way. The way this apparent disease (or whatever it is) spreads among the cast like a virus is eerily reminiscent of the opening moments of Soderbergh’s Contagion, but far more gradual and more subdued in its transmission. What’s not subdued is the color, and while it is cool to look at during certain sequences, other times it feels over-indulgent. Still, for experimental horror, this marks yet another solid entry in Neon’s catalogue of increasingly ambitious undertakings. 7/10.
Sorry We Missed You
A brutally harsh look at the perils of capitalistic society and the effects it has on working people, Sorry We Missed You might be the first “feel-bad” family drama I’ve seen which doesn’t have a very high profile like Ordinary People or The Godfather, but will stick with me for a very long time. Director Ken Loach takes a cold approach both to the characters and the filmmaking, just as the world in the film takes a cold approach towards Ricky, who is played by a beat-to-hell Kris Hitchen in one of the year’s most grueling performances. The more Ricky attempts to provide for his family, the less he’s actually able to be with them, and this focus on the poisonous pull of duty and money in capitalistic society ends up costing him more than it gives him. It’s a dreary narrative, but one that ultimately has a poignant message to tell, and it tells it almost too well for comfort. 8.6/10.
Bill and Ted Face the Music
I was never raised on the Bill and Ted films growing up, and so I didn’t catch up on them till much later in life (this year), but if I had to rank them, it would be 1) Excellent Adventure, 2) Face the Music, 3) Bogus Journey. Sure, the first one remains the best for its overly-80’s but genuinely fun time travel story, but this conclusion to the Bill and Ted trilogy has a lot to offer fans of the series, even if it might not impress outsiders to the films all that much. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter slide back into their roles just about perfectly, and the additions of Samara Weaving and Bridette Lundy-Paine to the cast makes for some really fun time-travel shenanigans. It’s not exactly Return of the King, but Face the Music ends the trilogy on a good note, reminding us all how fun it can be to be excellent to each other (and party on, dudes). 7.6/10.
And that is it for Mini Reviews #3! How many of these movies have you seen? What did you think of them? Sound off in the comments section below, and check out the links at the bottom of this post to see the other half of my Bitesize Reviews so far. Thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
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Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.