Monday, January 11, 2021

Movies You May Have Missed

For your entertainment, I'm going to recommend a few films that I saw and loved, films that may have flown in under the radar and were missed by you moviegoers when they opened. The first one I suggest you stream came out last year. My wish is that Academy members will notice and remember it come Oscar nomination time. DRIVEWAYS, directed by Andrew Ahn, holds the final film performance of the late Brian Dennehy. It's one of the best of his film career. This simple, graceful indie film focuses on three people. Each one really needs a friend. The single, working mother -- played by the excellent Hong Chau -- must hit the road with her lonesome little boy on a family matter. Her sister died. She and her sister drifted apart emotionally and now she must deal with her sister's house and personal effects. The sister lived next door to a big, burly widower who's played by Brian Dennehy. A mutual, unstated loneliness brings the sweet kid and the old widower together. 

This is a tender film about family ties and friendship and connecting. Hong Chau, who should have been a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for her stunning performance as the miniature Vietnamese dissident determined to help the needy in DOWNSIZING (2017), a fantasy drama, again shows her range as Kathy, the loving mother. Lucas Jaye is perfectly cast as her son, Cody. Dennehy's final monologue touched my soul and I feel it may touch yours too. If Brian Dennehy gets a posthumous Oscar nomination for DRIVEWAYS, it will be well-deserved. Here's a clip. DRIVEWAYS is available on Amazon Prime and YouTube. Also, it will be airing on Showtime, if you get that channel.

In 2018, singer Mary J. Blige made Hollywood history. She was the first Black woman to get more than one Oscar nomination in the same year. The movie was the 2017 drama, MUDBOUND, directed and co-written by Dee Rees. Blige's music composition skills got her nominated in the Best Song category. Blige co-wrote the song for MUDBOUND. She was also a nominee for Best Supporting Actress. This Depression era drama takes us from a Mississippi farm to France during World War 2. People must deal with the forces of poverty, racism and war. After you see Mary J. Blige's performance as the farm wife and mother, you may join me in saying "Why the hell isn't Hollywood stuffing Mary J. Blige's mailbox with other good script opportunities?" She's absolutely amazing in MUDBOUND. Her final scene alone made me gasp at its power.

 MUDBOUND is on Netflix. Here's a clip featuring Mary J. Blige. The cast includes Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke and Jason Mitchell.

Speaking of films that flew under the radar, this next one starred Elijah Wood who's famous for playing Frodo Baggins in the hugely successful THE LORD OF THE RINGS fantasy adventures. Wood was a guest on ABC's THE VIEW the week this film opened in 2015 -- but none of the hosts mentioned his new movie, which he co-produced. The movie is a black and white biopic called SET FIRE TO THE STARS. I'm an Elijah Wood fan and his work in this movie made me even more of a fan. The movie is set in the 1950s and was shot overseas in the U.K. SET FIRE TO THE STARS is based on the true story of when a Harvard graduate and aspiring poet named John Malcolm Brinnin has a week in which he tries to save his hell-raising, hard-drinking idol, poet Dylan Thomas. The movie was shot in Wales in 18 days. What hit me like a bolt of sweet lightning was the performance of Welsh actor Celyn Jones as Dylan Thomas. Not only is he terrific, the two actors have great chemistry together. SET FIRE TO THE STARS gives you Wood like you've never seen before. Here's a trailer.

You can find this Elijah Wood film on Amazon Prime.

New York City radio host Mike Sargent is an under-appreciated NYC talent. Besides his radio work, he's a filmmaker and a  warm, knowledgeable film critic who has been seen on PBS. He can be found on Twitter @ Mikeonscreen. Mike had a weekly show that aired on national cable TV. It was a groundbreaking show that TV columnists ignored -- and shame on them.  Mike's show was called ONSCREEN. It was a weekend film review and interview show. Why was it groundbreaking? Here was a big, brawny, heterosexual Black male film critic reviewing Hollywood and foreign films plus shining a frequent spotlight on LGBTQ filmmakers and women directors. On each edition of ONSCREEN, Mike had two guest critics. One was always a female -- especially a female of color. Women critics of color rarely get attention on TV. No network affiliate or even PBS ever had such a racially diverse, race/gender inclusive weekly film review/interview show. Yet TV columnists gave it no mention at all in newspapers or magazines.

I'm proud to have been a guest critic on a few editions of ONSCREEN. In one show, Mike Sargent, a guest Black female critic and I gave three enthusiastic thumbs up to a British film starring Eddie Marsan. Millions of American TV viewers will know Marsan from his role as the disabled ex-boxer Terry Donovan on the series, RAY DONOVAN. We three Black film critics loved Eddie Marsan's performance in STILL LIFE, a British film that opened in the U.S. in 2015.

STILL LIFE is a quiet indie film that may seem a bit slow at the beginning, but you have to stay with it. Marsan stars in an emotionally rich film. He plays John May, a man who lives a neat, orderly, rather bland existence. Other than his work, there seems to be no life in his lonely life. This is ironic because John works with the dead. In London, his duty is to find the next of kin of residents who died alone with no will and testament. We see his humanity and empathy when he attends funerals of some deceased so someone will be at their funeral services. Learning about the deceased from a few relatives slowly changes John's life. His loosens his personal rigidity. He meets a young woman who brings color into his life. Watching Eddie Marsan transform from a deadpan, lonely clerical worker to man who unexpectedly, joyfully finds romance is wonderful to watch. His performance is a worthy successor to the golden one given by Alec Guinness in the 1950 classic, LAST HOLIDAY. Here's a short look at STILL LIFE.

You can find STILL LIFE on Amazon Prime and YouTube. I hope you enjoy the movies. Leave me comments if you see any of them.


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