The Plain, Simple Review of the Month: January 2021

Having left the horrid year of 2020 behind, 2021 started off on a more positive note as many of us tuned in to witness the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, as well as hearing of vaccinations being well and truly underway, though things inevitably turned sour when it was announced that the death toll here in the UK had passed 100,000.

So as we continue to hear of both hopeful and depressing events happening in this country and throughout the world, as we continue to stay home and ride out the storm, there are still those brand new releases that we have access to on streaming services (Netflix having promised at least one new film every week) and it’s with a few of those new features that I start off my 2021 film year – the new “competition” begins.

As always, the following have UK release dates.

2021 Releases

Pieces of a Woman (2020)

★ ★ ★ ★

Kicking off my film year with a feature that was chosen as part of the Friday Fake Cinema Club (as were most of the following films), this film has a particularly memorable opening half hour as well as a performance from Vanessa Kirby that may very well be talked about come awards season, though the middle section of the film could’ve been better as the interest waned from time to time. Review HERE.

Outside the Wire (2021)

★ ★

The first of Netflix’s brand new releases, Outside the Wire had a potentially promising premise, as well as a solid leading performance from Anthony Mackie, and although it’s not terrible and it manages to entertain enough, it also has an uninspired and predictable story, the action scenes often get repetitive, and it has a muddled “message” – wanting to say something about humanity and warfare but coming across as preachy and confused. Review HERE.

One Night in Miami (2020)

★ ★ ★ ★

With an official release date of 2020 but a 2021 internet release, I’m glad that Regina King’s directorial debut is well and truly eligible for my 2021 list and it’s a very assured and promising start indeed.

As an adaptation of a theatrical piece, one that imagines a meeting between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown in which they discuss a whole manner of things, with Malcolm wanting them to use their popularity and status to incite change, I found myself perfectly engrossed in King’s film and although it was indeed a little too “stage-y”, it was very rarely boring or uninteresting, it had plenty of great dialogue which offered much “food for thought”, and the four leading actors were very impressive – particularly Kingsley Ben-Adir, who gave new life to the role of Malcolm X.

The White Tiger (2021)

★ ★ ★ ★

This film focuses on India’s caste system, the huge divide between rich and poor, and although it’s ultimately a little too glum and the same material is often repeated, it packs a powerful enough punch, juxtaposing images of the rich’s lavish lifestyle with the slums that the poor reside in, the story is original and easy to get engrossed in, and the three leading actors give great performances. Review HERE.

The Dig (2021)

★ ★ ★

A very safe, very respectable, and a very “Sunday afternoon with your (grand)parents” British film, your enjoyment of The Dig will all depend on how interested you are in real life stories of uncovering lost treasure and antiques; myself, I found the subject matter to be too dry and unexciting for my liking, though I couldn’t help but become interested when they actually did find something, and it’s apparent that the film’s story quickly runs out of material relating to the actual dig and it has to be padded out with several subplots involving Carey Mulligan’s declining health, Ralph Fiennes’ friendship with her young son, and a predictable and unnecessary romance subplot involving Lily James and Johnny Flynn, which only goes to show how little plot there is to this film.

To its credit, the central actors are good (with Carey Mulligan being quite impressive and Ralph Fiennes apparently channeling Ted from The Fast Show), the visuals are quite lovely, and the score is stirring, though it also tries too hard to make the onscreen events more exciting than they actually are, at one point giving us a dramatic swelling in a scene where Ralph Fiennes is simply doing a tiny bit of digging.

Finding ‘Ohana (2021)

★ ★ ★

Some say that it’s a modern retelling of The Goonies with elements of Indiana Jones thrown in (which is presumably why Jonathan Ke Quan makes an appearance) and at the end of the day, it’s a decent enough watch for a family to view while they’re stuck at home and it surely isn’t the worst thing that Netflix has released but at the same time, I also found it to be a little too silly and occasionally immature for my liking and the writing is a little uncertain, the emotional moments are forced, and the leading actors, which includes the main young actress, who here makes her debut, are only okay.

And it probably wasn’t a good idea to “borrow” from one of Ant-Man‘s most memorable sequences.

2021 Television

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Part Four)

★ ★ ★

OK, this one was technically released on the very last day of 2020 but, as it’s unreasonable to expect us to watch the whole thing in one day, it’s being included on this list.

And although this show started off well enough with its first season, it has been slowly going downhill since then and though part four started off promisingly, with the idea of the “Eldritch Terrors”, each subsequent episode apparently featuring a different one, the series just got sillier and more rushed and confusing as it headed towards its final episode, and the very last instalment was full of plot holes and it presented us with more questions than answers. Review HERE.

Star Trek: Discovery (Series Three)

★ ★ ★

A series that began in 2020 but broadcast its last episode earlier this month, I think it’s apparent by now that Discovery, try as it might, will never be one of the truly great Trek series and, in all honesty, I found catching the weekly episodes to be a bit of a chore but to its credit, it has a better series arc than most of what came before, the visuals still impress, and the core cast give it their all. Review HERE.

Lupin (Series One)

★ ★ ★ ★

At only five episodes, this Netflix series is a real breeze to get through and it has an exciting, enjoyable, and easily digestible story as well as an excellent central performance from the incredibly charismatic Omar Sy. Review HERE.

The Best of the Rest

This month, it’s sixties films for the win!

La Jetée (1962)

A highly imaginative, brilliantly constructed, and remarkably innovative half hour film involving a dystopian future and time travel; it’s remarkable that something so clever and ambitious could be made in the early sixties and it surely must have been a big influence on films such as Twelve Monkeys and Source Code.

PlayTime (1967)

There’s surely too much in there to unpack upon initial viewing, but Jacques Tati’s film is filled to the brim with such clever and funny visual/audio gags; it starts off by poking fun at ridiculously backwards technology and making a statement about how uniformly sterile the modern world can be – with all of the grey walls, huge windows, and locations and people who all look the same – before culminating in a delightfully hectic extended sequence situated in an unfinished hotel, as well as a heartwarming and affectionate look at how life can indeed be a beautiful and wacky merry-go-round.

Fellini Satyricon (1969)

In general, I’m not a big fan of director Federico Fellini and I’m sure that much of this particular odyssey, based on Greek myth, must have gone over my head but gosh darn it, I found myself immersed in the dark, hedonistic and, I’m guessing drug-fuelled, atmosphere.

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968)

Surely the MOST sixties film you’ll ever see – given the fashion, soundtrack, story, setting, characters, and the general look of the film – this sure is a groovy, super and wild film all about a young lad who just wants to get lucky with a lady, finding himself in several unsuitable relationships, and, though it may be an obscure film, I really enjoyed watching it and thought the leading actor was an affable chap.

Judex (1963)

This film from Eyes Without a Face director Georges Franju is all about a mysterious and unknown vigilante, known as “The Judge”, who takes it upon himself to bring a shady banker to justice and it has a deliciously intriguing atmosphere, a strong story, interesting characters, and it seems to further demonstrate Franju’s affinity for masks!

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