Rounding up new films and streaming choices

Published January 17, 2021, 11:31 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

The Film Awards season is delayed but just around the corner, and today’s article has two features that plan to figure during this upcoming season. Then there are other more commercial options. It’s a mix of productions we can watch on our streaming services and those that are available on demand, and we’ll have to pay for to watch. Enjoy!

Dick Johnson Is Dead (Netflix USA) – Originally screened in Sundance last year, this wonderful documentary quietly slipped under the radar on Netflix in October, and is a heads on favorite to garner nominations in the Best Documentary category across most film-award giving bodies. Kirsten Johnson directs and co-wrote this plaintive, yet lightly humorous tribute to her father, Richard. A widower and psychiatrist by profession, Dick Johnson was in his late-80’s as filming began, suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s.

What Kirsten set out to do was preserve something of her father and prepare herself and the family for his eventual demise. So beyond the looking back at his life, Kirsten’s big idea was to also stage several fake deaths, and her father readily agreed. It’s both a tearjerker, and a black comedy – and some will be surprised by the liberties Kirsten takes with her Dad’s willingness. But at its core, you can’t deny the deep love she has for her father. Funny, touching, and bittersweet!

Another Round (Denmark) – An official Cannes entry of 2020, this Danish film (originally titled Drunk, but translated as Another around for English-speaking countries), is the film with a bullet for a Best Film in a Foreign Language win this Awards season. Mads Mikkelsen will be the most familiar star, but it is an ensemble piece about four teachers at a Danish high school who embark on a perilous, inebriated journey of professional discovery.

Some scientific report basically suggests that a minimal degree of drinking in the daytime will lead to better performance in one’s professional life because one is looser, more relaxed, and not plagued by anxiety or stress. And so our History teacher, Music teacher, PE coach, and Science professor all conspire to experiment and confirm the report. Naturally, once they start, it’s hard to stop. Mikkelsen is marvelous here, and there’s so much social commentary at play in this erudite film.

Section: St. Valentine, The Disappearance of Divine (WeTV Original) – In the tradition of so many of the teenage and YA-inspired content we see on Netflix, here’s WeTV staking their own Filipino version of that territory. Shot during the pandemic, this mystery thriller Limited Series debuted January 15, 2021; and a new episode will drop every Friday. It captures the whole mood of online learning, and expands the notion to bring a narrative to life.

We’re introduced to Section: St. Valentine which is an international school here in Manila. As the online sessions begin, the mystery that crops up is the non-attendance of one Divine Concepcion. Is it a question of Murder? Is this fueled by jealousy and malice? And who among her classmates will solve the mystery, or is behind the disappearance. It’s the answers to these questions that will unfold as the series progresses. Based on the first ep, this series does hold promise!

Pretend It’s a City (Netflix USA) – Yes, this is a Documentary Series, but the magic name attached to it isn’t just author and rascally commentator Fran Leibovitz. There’s a second magical name in that the series is produced by icon Martin Scorsese, and he’s such a Leibovitz fan, that he often appears in the series, conducting the interviews and hosting the meals where we get up close with Fran. If you’re not familiar with Fran, she’s a New York City treasure. Forget Carrie Bradshaw, the true essential New Yorker, is Fran Leibovitz.

For most, Fran is an Old School curmudgeon, but she’s so honest and witty about it, you’ll be charmed. She’s a celebrated writer, but in truth, her last book came out in 1994, but she self-deprecates and talks about it. As she describes it, it’s not just a writer’s block, but a full-blown blockade. She abhors social media, and is fiercely proud of New York. Her observations are priceless and hilarious. This series will be an immediate favorite for a choice audience, and we can be happy Scorsese has brought this to life.

Freaky (USA) – From the infamous Blumhouse Studios, comes this high-concept Horror Comedy film. And yes, I use the term high-concept with a degree of irony, given that this is Blumhouse. What it is is an inspired blend of Friday the 13th and your standard slasher/serial killer films, with the Freaky Friday premise of a body swap. In this case, the body swap happens between the serial killer (played by Vince Vaughn) and his intended victim, a maladjusted teenage Senior (played by young ingenue Kathryn Newton).

It’s visceral, it’s bloody, it’s got the jump scares and gruesome sequences; and it’s also got delightful comedic sequences. Newton obviously has fun turning into a moody killer; but special mention has to go to Vaughn for suddenly turning into a giddy, female adolescent who’s trapped in his hulk of a body. The discovery that she now has a penis, and when she goes through her mascot-cheerleading routine, but all in Vince’s body, are precious. Watch this as it’s a lot of fun, and will make you wish you were watching it in a theater, enjoying the reactions of the audience.

Outside the Wire (Netflix USA) – Here’s one of those regularly released films on Netflix that looks for an audience that’s both testosterone and action-driven, while providing the opportunity for the female members of the Netflix audience to watch with their loved ones sitting beside them – and not aching to turn the device off and head to bed. It’s from the team that gave us Extraction and The Old Guard, and that alone should give you an inkling of what’s in store.

It stars Anthony Mackie as an Android soldier in a military war zone who’s asked to take on a young, disgraced drone pilot under his wing. And of course, we’re all waiting for that moment when the pilot realizes that Mackie’s character isn’t fully human, but something more. Just wish they had a narrative that relied more on brainpower and wiles, and not just brandishing the firepower and hardware that’s always part of these films.