STREAMING REVIEWS: On quality street

Published December 4, 2020, 10:06 PM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

For this week, we have three films that spell quality and artistry. And while unfortunately, that may mean not many people will actually be watching these films; it doesn’t detract from how both Mank and Sound of Metal may be figuring in the list of nominations when the Film Awards season begins in earnest next year. As for the Basketball Sports documentary mentioned below, I was fascinated with how it took pains to depict the ‘the road less travelled’.

Mank (Netflix) – The life of Herman Mankiewicz is at the center of this David Fincher film. Mank was the screenwriter who Orson Welles turned to for the first draft of Citizen Kane; and its through Mank’s ordeals creating the screenplay, that Fincher offers us this probing glimpse of 1940’s Hollywood. Coincidentally, it’s based on a screenplay written by Jack Fincher, David’s father. There’s crisp, unforgettable dialogue – for Mank was a drunk, but an ever articulate, entertaining drunk. And you’ll love the little digs at Hollywood and the ‘product’ it manufactures. At one point, someone tells Mank to ‘Write hard, aim low.’

Gary Oldman is terrific as Mank, and Amada Seyfried as Marion Davies (girlfriend of William Randolph Hearst, played by Charles Dance) is a revelation. From their first conversation, we’re given a tête-à-tête that sparkles, showing that Davies was a much smarter person than she was letting on. It’s Hollywood of 1940 shot in the gorgeous Black & White of the era; and much like the Citizen Kane that inspired it, we’re treated to so much more than one man’s writing plight. Instead, we’re treated to a parade of snapshots of what made this Hollywood tick and why right after the Depression, it became the fantasy factory is still manages to be. Beautiful film, and as it celebrates Hollywood, expect this to go far come Oscars night.

Sound of Metal (Amazon Prime) – Here’s a film that tries to make a strong statement about deaf culture and the deaf community. We first meet Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) performing on stage, a drummer for a punk-metal band fronted by his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). They live in an RV and go from town to town for their gigs. The conflict arises when Ruben discovers he’s losing his hearing; a test shows it’s up to 80% loss and other than very expensive implants, it’s a condition that will only deteriorate. The idea is to preserve what hearing he has left. A recovering heroin addict, one can imagine how hard this mess hits him – his career heading to a screeching standstill, and the anxiety and desperation looking for release via a drug-induced relapse.

The Sound Design on this film truly impresses, as director and co-writer Darius Marder, tries to take us into Ruben’s mind and what he’s experiencing. And equally impressive is Riz Ahmed’s portrayal of Ruben. There’s restraint and brooding complexity where an easier route could have been melodrama and lashing-out anger. With numerous tattoos and peroxide hair, this is Riz going all out in taking on the skin of Ruben. You’ll love how he’s sent to a deaf community where acceptance of one’s condition is the key to surviving, while Ruben still dreams of financing the implants and reviving his old life. There are some narrative holes making this a less than perfect picture, but it’s very worth watching.

A Kid from Coney Island (Netflix) – Stephon Marbury and what could have been, and what came to pass, could be the subheading of this sports documentary. For those not in the know, Marbury was one of those big prospects coming out of college and dreaming of the NBA. He’s a member of the 1996 draft, part of the class that produced Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Marcus Camby, and Peja Stojaković. And Marbury was drafted 4th in the class. But from the Timberwolves, to the Nets, the Suns, and the Knicks; you’d be hard-pressed to find NBA fans of today remembering Marbury at all. He was practically chased out of New York, despite being a local boy from Coney Island.

And yet, this documentary hits home by chronicling how Marbury found redemption and ultimate fulfillment by packing his NBA bags, and heading to Beijing, China. There he blossomed as a full-fledged star, idolized to the point where there now stands a Marbury Museum. It’s a different road taken to achieve a form of posterity and leave a legacy – so I loved how this documentary shows there’s more than one stream to flow through – and how life can be full of second chances.