Home Video Round-Up 2/14/2021

A Sun (2/3/2021)

A Sun is a Taiwanese drama that had something of a strange journey to semi-prominence.  The film had won some plaudits in Asia but in this country was sitting around in plain sight on Netflix for months without critics really bringing it up.  Netflix (who likely obtained the film with their foreign markets in mind) hadn’t publicized it and there wasn’t really a release date for critics to write for.  Then late in the year Peter Debruge at Variety (a publication that reviews everything) put it at the top of his year-end list, at which point other critics took notice and started catching up with it.  It’s kind of an off-putting release story, one that exposes the dangers of how things can fall through the cracks when uncaring streaming services view things mainly as “content” rather than prospects to be nurtured.  Regardless, this is definitely a movie worth watching.  It’s a bit like other Taiwanese classics like Edward Yang’s Yi Yi or Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Time to Live and the Time to Die in that it’s this sprawling drama about a family but it’s also probably a more accessible watch than both of those movies.  It opens with a scene of two teenagers rushing another teenager in a restaurant and cutting off his hand with a machete.  We then spend the rest of the film examining one of those attackers (the accomplice, not the hand cutter) and the effect that his arrest has on the rest of his family.  I was not familiar with director and co-writer Chung Mong-hong before watching this and suspect he may be someone I’ll need to catch up with because he shows obvious skill here.  There are a couple of visual choices here and there I might quibble with and the film could maybe stand to signpost some of the passage of time a little more clearly, but for the most part the visuals are solid and I certainly found myself interested in this family and its fate.

**** out of Five

The Social Dilemma (2/4/2021)

The Social Dilemma is a documentary about the ill-affects of social media on society and it’s a movie where, while watching it quickly occurred to me that it was probably a movie made for a slightly different audience than the one I belonged to.  This seems to be very much made for people who don’t spend inordinate amounts of time reading Wired articles and don’t know the name “Kara Swisher” and might find the notion that facebook is tracking your activity to be something of a revelation.  Personally, I didn’t get much out of this which I didn’t already know and I must say I found its presentation rather obnoxious.  The film is beyond over-produced and uses far too many visual tricks including these hokey filmed sequences where a fictional family starts to get torn apart by phone addiction and alt-right propaganda.  It feels less like a feature film and more like a sort of PSA video that you would show to classes or families on retreats or something.  Specifically I think it’s intended for teenagers as a sort of primer on the consequences of getting too attached to smartphones but as an adult with some education on these topics I didn’t have much use for it at all.

** out of Five

The Climb (2/5/2021)

The Climb is an indie comedy which harkens back to something of an earlier era of “Sundance success” stories where an unknown person kind of comes out of nowhere and writes, directs, and stars in a dialogue driven comedy that ends up hitting above its weight class… except the market is so saturated now that very few movies can really get that much attention and really build into a mainstream success anymore.  Anyway, this movie looks at a fraught friendship between a couple of guys over the course of several years where they end up fighting over a couple of women they get into love triangles with.  You kind of feel like you’ve got the movie pegged because of its visual style but it ends up throwing some real narrative curveballs, in part because it’s set over the course of years instead of days.  On a narrative level it’s almost like they took the entire run of a sitcom and cut all the day to day jokes and will-they/won’t-they delaying and just went straight through the plot points of one of those series all in one 95 minute film.  That’s interesting and there are a handful of scenes here that I quite admired, but I don’t think I ever quite came to care about many of these characters more deeply and I also never quite found the movie to be laugh out loud hilarious either.

*** out of Five

Notturno (2/12/2021)

Without fail I pretty much always find myself watching at least one depressing documentary about conflict in the Middle East and this year it would seem that the film Notturno would slot into that role.  This was made by the Italian filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi, who made the acclaimed film Fire at Sea (which is one of my few major blind spots in the field of contemporary documentaries) and seems to specialize in making films where he sort of embeds himself into locations of world strife to see what he can assemble.  This film fits that mold but seems to be taking a much broader subject with less of a clear focus.  The film is described as being “shot over the course of three years in Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, and Lebanon” and depicts several different people in several different situations.  These vignettes are linked thematically by the fact that they they’re all about people kind of recovering from the various conflicts that were going on in these places, but that’s a pretty broad theme to build a documentary like this around if you ask me and I never quite saw all the connective tissue that the director was apparently intending.  Beyond that a lot of these segments are not terribly eventful and are meant more to be these sort of Fred Wiseman-ish observations of people in action, which is nice if that’s what you’re into but I kind of wanted a bit more meat on the bones.  Maybe I’m missing something but this just didn’t really work for me.

**1/2 out of Four

Miss Juneteenth (2/14/2021)

Miss Juneteenth is an odd movie in that I basically like it and yet it left very little impression on me and left me with very little to say about it.  The film debuted at Sundance, which makes sense to me because this definitely feels like the small town set regional character piece that tends to thrive at that festival.  The film is set in Fort Worth Texas and follows an African American woman played by Nicole Beharie who had once thrived in the Miss Juneteenth beauty pageant and is now kind of pressuring her daughter to participate in that same pageant despite her not really being that into it.  Like a lot of these Sundance movies the film at times feels more like a sort of excuse to portray a certain location and community and it does that well, giving you an interesting peek into the this neighborhood, but the actual family story kind of never really got going for me.  The characters here are mostly interesting and you can see some of the conflicts there but they were never really as fascinating as the environment for me and that’s a problem.

**1/2 out of Five

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