Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Catching up with some of Netflix's holiday offerings: MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM, THE MIDNIGHT SKY and DEATH TO 2020

Let's start with the newest: the funny mockumentary about the year that's about to end: DEATH TO 2020. Making use of a very well-chosen cast of pros who know how to deliver, this only-70-minute movie is indeed pretty obvious in both its targets and its humor. But so was 2020 and the impossibly stupid and sleazy Trump administration -- as well as Britain's Boris Johnson and his twaddle. (The movie is pretty equally divided between British and American humor, characters and situations.) 

Everyone in the cast is aces, but in particular, hats off to Tracey Ullman, Hugh Grant, Lisa Kudrow, Kumail Nanjiani and Diane Morgan for capturing their characters so immediately and precisely. Created by Charlie Brooker (Black Mirror), who also co-wrote, and Annabel Jones, and directed by Al Campbell and Alice Mathias, the film tackles 2020 from last January onward and is streaming now on Netflix.

Both critics and audiences seem to be saying "nay" to  the new George Clooney movie THE MIDNIGHT SKY, in which he stars and directs. We found it not only timely and moving but very much worth sticking with. Yes, it is quiet and slow, but it is also increasingly gripping, dealing as it does with an apocalyptic world event (which is never fully explained but even this is a plus in terms of the movie's subtlety) that mankind has evidently brought upon itself. 

Set in 2049 and split between an Arctic locale, the character Clooney portrays and a young girl he has rescued, and the small crew of a space transport that has been seeking out another livable planet and is now returning to earth, the movie features one knockout scene (a "first," I believe) involving a wounded crew member that is surprising, stunning and should have you on the edge of your couch. Kudos to Clooney (and his fine cast) for trying something different and achieving so much. (Even if you do question how someone can fall fully-clothed into Arctic water and so easily survive. Maybe it's another effect of global warming?)

is as good as you've heard, despite that bizarre take-down by Hilton Als of both the film and Viola Davis in a recent issue of The New Yorker

The film, directed by George C. Wolfe, actually improves upon the too-lengthy play by the late August Wilson which, among its many virtues, offers an awful and telling example of black-on-black violence, along with how and from where this comes. Ms Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman give wonderfully rich and powerful performances, with the rest of the cast not far behind. This is a "period" piece that seems all too timely still, with its leading characters as sad and multi-faceted as can be imagined.

All three films are streaming now on Netflix -- along with a load of forgettable Christmas movies that the behemoth always seems to "gift" us with around this time of year.

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