For this first weekend of the Year 2021, it was a mix of satirical news documentaries, a new Old School romance, and children-oriented feature films,
Death to 2020 (Netflix USA) – Created from the same team that gave us the smart, highly successful Black Mirror series, this is a mockumentary that aims to act both as political satire, and a humor-filled but strident look back at the year that just was. Unfortunately, getting a bevy of stars and known personalities does not equate to coming up with good jokes or insightful commentary. Samuel L. Jackson as a news commentator, Hugh Grant as a silly historian, Lisa Kudrow as a denying Trump apologist, Tracey Ullman as the Queen, Kumail Nanjiani as a recluse/dot.com billionaire; they’re among the stars all asked to do their best to turn the often weak material into something golden and witty.
The Coronavirus, the Karens, Black Lives Matter, Brexit and Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and his advice to ingest bleach, the lack of faith in science and technology, the average citizen’s susceptibility to conspiracy theories, and our dependence on Zoom Netflix, & social media, the obsession over the royal TV shows: The Crown and Tiger King, the Biden/Harris ticket – they’re all fodder for the light ridicule and commentary that stands in as smart reporting. If you’ve been asleep the whole of 2020, then this show might actually hold interest throughout its running time. Personally, I felt it went on for far too long, didn’t put enough ridicule or satire where it deserved to be, and missed the chance to say something truly smart about the disaster 2020 was. It’s raced up the charts of Most Watched in the Philippines, but I wonder how many stayed glued to the end.
Sylvie’s Love (Amazon Prime) – Here’s something so old-fashioned, so Old School, and so retro in feel, that it actually feels fresh and new to the critics who have taken it to their collective hearts. First screened early last year at Sundance, the film finally reaches the streaming services and its easy to see why this film was so loved. Set in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, it pretty sticks much to formula – a romance melodrama that doesn’t rely on disaster, abnormal personalities, or strong social issues to push the narrative forward. But what is new is how the two protagonists are African-Americans just fumbling their way to Love. It’s a film that we’re produced in mass quantities during the period, but was always white-centric – think of the films of Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee, to name a couple.
Tessa Thompson is finally given a role that allows her to act and impress, away from the MCU Thor world, and she makes the most of it. The Hair, Make-Up and Costume Design team behind this film also impresses, gifting Thompson’s Sylvie with looks that wonderfully evoke this Mad Men-era, but doing it in Harlem. Nnamdi Asomugha, an ex-NFL player is the leading man here; and while he’s on the stoic side when it comes to acting, he surprises by not taking the action route of other NFL to Hollywood stars such as Jim Brown. And you’ll love how the film utilizes jazz music and the pop songs of the 1960’s; and make Sylvie’s professional career as important as those of the men in her life. There are some nods to racial history and bigotry of the times, but at its core, it’s really about these two star-crossed lovers.
We Can Be Heroes (Netflix USA) – On the strength of films such as Spy Kids, The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl, and now, We Can Be Heroes; it’s easy to forget that Robert Rodriguez also directed El Mariachi, Desperado, and Machete. It’s easy to excuse this shift to his just doing it for the money, or wanting to direct films that his children can watch. But I can honestly say there is some merit to his Spy Kids as a fun film that both children and their parents could enjoy together. Alas, I can’t say the same for this rather predictable and pedestrian fare. Shame, as it can even be seen as a quasi-sequel to his Sharkboy and Lavagirl film, as they’re both back, as part of The Heroics team.
So what Rodriguez did with Spy Kids to the secret agent genre of film, he’s now attempting to do with the superhero genre via this We Can Be Heroes. The aforementioned The Heroics is like a Justice League who’ve all grown up and now have children. So yes, there is a The Incredibles element to this live-action film, with the children forced to save the day when The Heroics are captured by an alien force. The big problem I had was that the children are such bad actors and aren’t even charming – I really don’t know how much attention was placed on casting or if these were the first choices. It’s crippled from the word Go by this situation, campy CGI, and too-predictable a storyline. Only for the kids this time, and I wonder if they’ll even like it all that much.