An industrious sports agent plots to single-handedly end an NBA lockout.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Andre Holland, Zazie Beetz, and Melvin Gregg
Review by Jon Kissel
Steven Soderbergh gave a speech in 2013 about the state of cinema, and what he interpreted as a dire future for the art form. Directors like him who operated in the mid-budget range were being squeezed out in favor of micro-budget horror and macro-budget spectacle, trends that haven’t abated in the last five years. If a studio didn’t envision a narrow, Academy-friendly path forward for a film that wasn’t either of those, it wasn’t going to get made, or if it was, it was going to be dumped and disrespected and kept away from wider audiences. In the time since that speech, Soderbergh has been the visual master behind a best-of-the-decade prestige drama series, experienced the exact mid-budget underperformance that he talked about, and gone experimental to conform to the low end of the budget continuum, namely shooting two movies on an iPhone. The first, Unsane, did marginally well in theaters, but the second, High Flying Bird, skipped theaters altogether and went straight to Netflix, the studio equivalent of HBO at the dawn of the Golden Age of Television such that they throw money at creators and take a big step back. Soderbergh is a director who thinks clearly and publicly about his next moves and how they fit within the framework of his industry, making him the perfect director to bring High Flying Bird into the world because it’s about someone very much like him.
World class parodies sadly don’t make money, but it would be better for moviegoers and filmmakers if they were more successful. Formulaic romantic comedies don’t get made if the public recognized their hacky tropes from They Came Together. Cop thrillers get 50% better if Naked Gun is playing on a loop by craft services, and the Lonely Island HBO Sports specials would force future 30 for 30 directors to raise their game. Of all these, it’s Walk Hard that is apparently the most underseen, because that John C. Reilly comedic masterpiece filets not only the musical biopic but the biopic in general, making it impossible for an ineffectual writer to coast on the shorthand of a Greatest Hits list. It’s been over ten years since Walk Hard’s release, and the makers of Bohemian Rhapsody clearly thought that was enough time to put in the rearview. Just as Dewey Cox is cribbing from serious musician biopics, Bohemian Rhapsody seems to be cribbing from Walk Hard. On the one hand, if stealing must happen, then steal from the best. On the other hand, this film exemplifies the worst and laziest of the genre, sabotaging any future attempt to flesh out one of pop music’s grandest personalities and generating exactly as much entertainment value as any single youtube video of Queen.
Raw is one of those films that engenders visceral reactions in its viewers. Its showings have apparently resulted in the paramedics being called in after audience members have fainted. Even the trailer dares the viewer to look away. As the latest entry into the company of the French Extremity genre, along with gorefests like Martyrs and Gaspar Noe's nightmare landscapes, Raw deserves its grotesque reputation, but it is not solely going for cheap thrills. Julia Ducournau's intense but heady film is a feast for the eyes, as oddly beautiful and entrancing as a story about a sheltered veterinary student's cannibalistic awakening could possibly be. Ducournau throws down a challenge to stomach her work and an invitation to experience it. Both are worth accepting.
There are movies tethered to their time, and then there’s Danny Boyle’s The Beach. Philosophically, this film is the essence of pre-dot-com-bubble, pre-9/11 America, a frivolous place with a flat culture that must be abandoned to find whatever life really is. A person can only view a work for the first time once. I don’t know what it would have been like to watch The Beach in 2000, but watching it nineteen years after its release is an eye-rolling experience.
As the fourth Star Wars film in four years, the troubled production that was Han Solo’s origin story is the sore thumb of the bunch. While each previous film has its detractors, some louder than others, Solo is the film whose critical dismissal and lackluster commercial haul was striking enough to push the giant ship of Disney away from continued annual returns to George Lucas’ universe. The energy of Solo itself is like a self-fulfilling prophecy, such that the actors and filmmakers may have anticipated how their work was going to be received, put their heads down, and made it to the final frame. From Ron Howard on down, no one seems creatively inspired or happy to be here, resulting in a film that has little impact after the credits roll.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.