The Plain, Simple Review of the Month: August 2020

Well here we are at the beginning of another month in this crazy year and in August, we saw the reopening of the cinemas – good times – the truly shocking and terrible news of the untimely passing of Chadwick Boseman – bad times – and of course, there were a few more on demand films that we were able to check out before we returned to the cinema and here are the eight new ones that I watched:

2020 Releases

Radioactive (2019)

★ ★ ★

This film, an biopic of sorts that tells of how Marie Curie discovered radium with her husband Pierre, how she faced scorn and horrible behaviour from many intolerant people, and how she advanced the field of science to become the important and influential figure that she still is today, is worth a watch as it is an elightening feature that aims to educate its audience about the accomplishments of this pioneer and it does give us some interesting facts as well as being a mighty fine vehicle for Rosamund Pike, who is of course the film’s primary attraction, but it’s not one that many will revisit as the film is also rather dry, dusty and a bit drab and although you will learn some things as you watch, you’ll probably forget about them some weeks down the line and although Pike is great, the rest of the film is distinctly average.

Black is King (2020)

★ ★ ★ ★

Much like Hamilton, this will surely warrant the question of “Is it a film? Can you include it in your “films of the year” list?” but heck, it says right there in the title “A Film by Beyoncé”, right? Plus, a quick Google search tells us that it’s a film, and recently, Lemonade was included as an example of a female directed film in Mark Cousins’ documentary Women Make Film so yeah, I’m counting it.

Anyway, Beyoncé’s “visual album” (yes, I’m contradicting what I said in the first paragraph, aren’t I?) boasts cinematography, production design, costume design, make-up and hairstyling, choreography, and music that could show up most any other 2020 film and in addition to being a bright and colourful visual wonder, the film does well in taking the general storyline and a few of the themes from The Lion King and interprets them here in an imaginative and artistic way, giving us an ultimately satisfying experience that’s quite the treat for the eyes and ears.

My interest did start to wane eventually though, as the whole Lion King concept was gradually phased out and it became more difficult to interpret the meaning of the material and it did, in fact, become more like a series of music videos, and although there were a few solid tracks – “Brown Skin Girl” being the clear standout, partially because Lupita Nyong’o made an appearance in it – not many of them had a properly lasting impact.

Lynn + Lucy (2019)

★ ★ ★

This quintessentially British film, which has seemingly flown under many people’s radars as I have heard nary a word spoken about it, gives us an interesting story about a formerly strong friendship that is put to the ultimate test when one of them is suspected of committing an unspeakable crime and it’s intriguing to see how a community can resort to mob mentality, how it’s always unclear as to whether the “culprit” is actually guilty or not, and how a major event can change a person, how they could start to realise that their friendship wasn’t actually genuine to begin with and how that event could see them turning into someone completely new, associating with a very different type of people.

Lynn + Lucy is indeed a good film, the two leads are decent, but at the same time, there’s something missing that keeps it from being a great film and although it has no glaring problems, it’s ultimately a “one and done” affair.

Project Power (2020)

★ ★

Another high profile Netflix original, Project Power brings in the big guns by adding Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon Levitt to the cast list, along with a solid premise of a pill that grants the user temporary and unknown superpowers, but although that premise is sound and the acting’s alright, this proved to be a missed opportunity as it tells the story in a messy and confusing manner, the special effects definitely aren’t the best, the film looks drab and gloomy, and overall I just found the whole thing surprisingly dull, which is not ideal for a film that centres around superpowers, which is a drag.

It’s no Old Guard!

Howard (2018)

★ ★ ★ ★

A 2018 film that only recently saw a wide release on Disney Plus, this heartfelt documentary celebrates the achievements of Howard Ashman, the incredibly talented musician and lyricist who, alongside Alan Menken, was responsible for the memorable songs of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, as well as several other stage shows and projects such as the popular Little Shop of Horrors, and it does well in showing us just how vital his contributions were to the Disney renaissance and just how knowledgeable and proficient he was at composing great music. It’s also made clear that he had a magnetic and caring personality and what’s more, his HIV diagnosis isn’t skimmed over (this being Disney, I half expected them to make the outrageous decision to leave that important part out) and it’s really something to hear about what he went through and how he kept working through the pain in order to create his art. It’s a little odd that the documentary uses voiceover narration, rather than visual footage of the interviewees but all in all, Howard proved to be an enlightening and touching documentary that taught me a few things and furthered my appreciation for the invaluable contributor to the Disney renaissance.

And his rendition of “Part of Your World”, heard during the closing credits, is really something special.

The One and Only Ivan (2020)

★ ★ ★

Amazingly based on a true story, this part live action, part computer generated Disney original sees Sam Rockwell voice a Silverback Gorilla named Ivan, a permanent resident in a mall-situated big top show, who takes it upon himself to free all the other captivity-bound animals, learning to paint as a way of expressing his desire to attain freedom, and on the positive side, the animals in this film all look great as the CGI is very impressive and all the creatures manage to display plenty of real emotions (sorry Lion King, you’ve been schooled, son!), the acting, both live action and vocal, is strong, and the whole thing manages to be sweet and well intentioned without ever veering into mawkishness or oversentimentality, but the film also has a pacing problem as it takes well over an hour for the film to fully get into gear, for the “adventure” to begin, and even then, nothing particularly interesting or memorable happens and the fact that the whole thing essentially takes place in one location sometimes makes things quite boring.

At the end of the day, Ivan has heart and it looks good but it’ll unfortunately be forgotten about by the end of the year.

Chemical Hearts (2020)

★ ★

This Amazon original provides us with another entry in the popular coming-of-age genre of films and this one’s all about an everyday kid who finds himself drawn to a mysterious new crutch-laden transfer student with a traumatic past, their relationship developing as they work together on the school paper and as he finds out more about her past, and although it’s technically well made, Husters‘ Lili Reinhart is good (unlike her co-star Austin Abrams who is as charismatic as a block of wood (nice hair, though)), and it has one or two interesting moments, this film ends up as a real drag because it’s all just a little too pretentious, trying hard to be thoughtful, philosophical, brooding and deep (mostly by including those annoying type of characters who get their rocks off by quoting Pablo Naruda and the like) but actually coming across as pompous, vapid and hollow, not helped by the fact that the story is uninteresting and offers nothing worthwhile to the coming-of-age genre.

The Night Clerk (2020)

★ ★ ★

This was another film with an intriguing premise that unfortunately stumbled a little in its execution; centred around a hotel night clerk with Asberger syndrome who, while secretly observing the guests through hidden cameras in an effort to study their behaviour, witnesses a murder and later becomes infatuated with a gorgeous guest, The Night Clerk did indeed have the potential to be a particularly dark, exciting and taut little thriller but its problem is that it focuses too much on the “romance” element of the story, putting the relationship between Tye Sheridan’s autistic clerk and Ana de Armas’ femme fatale front and centre, and this proves to be detrimental to the film because it means that the thriller elements are often pushed to one side and, although the film remains consistently engaging and watchable in my opinion, coupled with the fact that having an autistic protagonist is a good step forward for representation, the film isn’t as strong as it could’ve been and the pacing is a little off throughout.

* * *

And that does it for the new releases. Next month’ll be interesting as films will be back in the cinema (yay!), but what about the other first time watches of this month? Well, I didn’t get to see as many truly excellent films as I did in previous months, but here were a few of my favourites:

The Best of the Rest

The Intouchables (2011)

A good indication of just how lazy, pointless and unnecessary the American remake was, the original French film is genuinely really funny and it has strong characters, great performances, lovely music, and a lot of heart.

LA 92 (2017)

Despite being aware of the basic facts involved, that the 1992 riots in LA were the result of the outrageous acquittal of the officers who brutally beat Rodney King, I was a little uninformed about the pivotal events that happened in ’92 and this was an incredibly stirring, powerful, and important documentary about the horribly unfair treatment that black people continue to face today; it really did make me angry – an admirable quality in a documentary – and I felt enlightened by the end of it.

The Green Mile (1999)

Having recently read the book, I of course decided to finally watch the popular and much talked about cinematic adaptation and I wasn’t disappointed; it’s a very faithful adaptation of the book, gruesome execution and all, it looks excellent, and the whole thing is really quite affecting.

Glory (1989)

Saw this one in preparation for my James Horner blogathon entry – it has excellent music and a mighty fine supporting performance from Denzel.

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

Just what I needed on a Sunday afternoon – it’s a fun and entertaining classic with a particularly strong performance from the incomparable Lauren Bacall and it inspired me to watch two more Marilyn Monroe films later on that day.

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

Another beloved and much discussed film that didn’t show at any cinema near me, this was a really lovely film about an unlikely group of people going on a road trip adventure and it was bolstered by three excellent central performances as well as some beautiful cinematography and music, as well as its sweet theme of brotherly love.

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