I continue to watch quite a bit during COVID-19, as evidenced in past posts, as well as for The Buffalo News. Here is another roundup of recent home views. You can also check out my Letterboxed and Rotten Tomatoes pages for more updates. Thanks for reading! And watch for more to come …
Never Rarely Sometimes Always: A-
It is possible, when 2020 comes to a close, that Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always will rank as the year’s most impactful film. Anchored by two of the most natural performances from young actors in recent memory — lead Sidney Flanigan plays a teenager who journeys to New York City for an abortion, while Talia Ryder plays her cousin — Never Rarely is, quite simply, a stunner. It also features a moment that has already achieved iconic status, a somber, unbroken shot in which Autumn is questioned by a clinic employee. It’s a beautiful sequence, wonderfully acted by Flanigan. (Interestingly, Flanigan is a Buffalo native and resident, while Ryder was born in Buffalo as well.) This is a film which should be required viewing for teenagers. It is a conversation-starter, to be sure, but also an involving character piece. Hittman, Flanigan, and Ryder deserve worldwide applause for this achievement.
How to Build a Girl: C+
I was bummed to miss How to Build a Girl at both the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2019 BFI London Film Festival. As a die-hard anglophile and Britpop obsessive, this is one that had intrigued me from the get-go. A teenage girl becomes immersed in the U.K. music press during the mid-90s? Come on! Sadly, however, the film itself left me rather disappointed. Beanie Feldstein gives a fine performance — although her British accent is at first rather distracting; were there no actual British actors available? Still, she brings her usual wit and charm to the role. But the film is far too predictable, and never quite as funny or moving as it should be. That being said, it’s difficult for me not to at least partially like a film that A) revolves around the British music press and B) hinges on a life-changing Manic Street Preachers concert. How to Build a Girl is worthy of a watch, but do not expect a coming-of-age classic.
The Trip to Greece: B+
The fifth and (supposedly) final film in Michael Winterbottom’s Trip series might be the best yet — uproarious and moving. Once again, British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play versions of themselves on a road trip tour of fine restaurants. This time, the duo hit the luscious landscapes of Greece. They discuss BAFTAs, trade Olivier impressions, and then are forced to confront mortality. It concludes with resigned acceptance of its characters’ stations in life; Coogan, the more commercially and critically successful performer, suffers through loss and sadness, while Brydon is left in ecstasy with his wife. Is this a judgmental finale? Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps The Trip to Greece is simply accepting the trade off that occurs in order to achieve commercial success. Either way, it is a sharp, hilariously funny, emotionally satisfying film. All hail Coogan and Brydon. Please do one more, in America.
The Roads Not Taken: C
Here is a film whose heart is in the right place. But despite good intentions and a stacked cast of heavyweights, this story of a man reviewing his choices as the end draws near simply does not work. When looking at the talent roster, that might seem shocking. How could a film directed by Sally Potter (Orlando) and starring Javier Bardem, Salma Hayek, and Elle Fanning be so unmemorable? The answers lie with a script that fails to provide any fresh insight to the “what-if?” trope. Fanning, especially, gives a strong performance; coupled with her role on Hulu’s wild and woolly series The Great, she’s on a nice tear. The acting makes The Roads Not Taken a drama worth watching for fans of Bardem and Fanning. But do not expect to remember the film a day later.
The Wild Goose Lake: B-
The Wild Goose Lake is hugely acclaimed, and it’s easy to see why; there are moments of devastating beauty in this Chinese gangster drama. For me, its story, of a small-time criminal who accidentally kills a police officer, simply did not quite land. But it’s still a stunningly photographed ride, one that is never remotely dull and often heads into unexpected terrain.
Blood Quantum: B
Canadian zombie flick Blood Quantum is down, dirty, and legit terrifying. Its final few minutes, especially, are genuinely devastating. Smartly setting its story of ravenous zombies on a First Nations reserve, it has an unhinged, anything-goes feel. It’s no wonder Blood was so acclaimed at the Toronto International Film Festival. It makes Jeff Barnaby as a director to watch.
Ugh. I paid $25 for to buy Scoob! since paying $20 to just rent it seemed wasteful. The animated film, which famously skipped cinema for a home debut, never feels like a Scooby Doo story. Rather than a mystery, the story involves superheroes and a journey to “the Underworld.” Oh, and Simon Cowell, for some reason. Dull, overlong, and never remotely involving, Scoob! makes the silly Matthew Lillard-starring live action films seem rather quaint and joyful by comparison. Something worth noting, however: While my kids were not particularly invested in the film when we watched it as a family, they’ve since watched it at least two times. Now, they’re fans. Maybe the $25 wasn’t such a waste after all …