Yes, I know this series was supposed to have ended with Part 7. But since there are very few new movies to watch in 2020, I decided to go back and finish off some more 2019 films that were on my watch list.
Late Night: I heard a lot about this film when it premiered at Sundance in January 2019 to strong reviews. Amazon Studios paid $13 mn just for the US distribution rights and spent more than double that for marketing and promotion, but sadly it flopped on release and lost them a lot of money. I was finally able to watch it on Netflix last month and really enjoyed it. Although it is essentially a formulaic dramedy, Mindy Kaling’s intelligent script also carries insights into gender politics at the workplace and by having women in both the boss and subordinate roles, is able to juxtapose the experiences of one versus the other. Very entertaining and some of the writers room scenes are good for multiple viewings! I really can’t understand why it didn’t do well in the theatres.
Doctor Sleep: Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Shining was one of the defining films of his career and also created one of Jack Nicholson’s signature roles. The sequel novel Doctor Sleep was published in 2013, nearly four decades after the original. The film adaptation finally came out last year, with great box office expectations for Warner Bros., given its pedigree and the megabucks the studio made with the release of another King property It, in 2017 and It Chapter Two in 2019. Although Doctor Sleep garnered decent reviews from critics, the film was a box office flop; it didn’t appeal to young horror movie-goers who were unfamiliar with the first film and may not have understood some characters or key scenes which recalled moments from The Shining. I found it reasonably entertaining, more of a thriller/road movie rather than a horror film. The casting is great – Ewan McGregor plays Danny Torrance, the emotionally scarred, grown-up son of Jack Nicholson’s character from The Shining; Rebecca Ferguson is very good as Rose the Hat, the charismatic leader of a group of ‘psychic vampires’ (the same concept as in Tobe Hooper’s 1985 cult film Lifeforce) who are hunting down young children, then torturing and killing them to consume their life essence; and Zahn McClarnon has a strong screen presence as Crow Daddy, the lover and right-hand-man of Rose the Hat. For those viewers who are familiar with the original, it’s a bit incongruous to see other actors play Jack Nicholson’s, Shelley Duvall’s and Scatman Crothers’ characters from The Shining, albeit in very brief scenes. Worth watching only if you’ve seen The Shining.
Corpus Christi: This Polish film was one of the nominees for Best International picture at the 2020 Oscars, losing of course to South Korea’s Parasite. It’s a simple story of a young spiritually-inclined ex-con who is assigned to work at a sawmill in a small town, but is somehow mistaken for a priest when he arrives there and chooses to go with the flow and play the role. He quickly gets drawn into the social dynamics of the town – helping families deal with the death of their loved ones from an automobile accident, spending time with a group of youths who drink and bicker to get over their boredom, and sparring with the mayor, a local bigwig who runs the town. His unorthodox methods quickly gain him a following among the parishioners, while also alienating those who cannot deal with his divergence from accepted norms and the status quo. It’s a bit depressing, as are most films which deal with life in small towns in the West; one sees the same themes – a declining economy, disaffected youth and nepotism or graft hidden by the town elders beneath a calm veneer of gentrification. Ultimately, this movie is an acting showcase for the young actor Bartosz Bielenia, who has a magnetic screen presence, even in this grungy, de-glamorized role. You can feel the character’s love of humanity and strong sense of right and wrong shine through in Bielenia’s performance.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco: Speaking of disaffected youth, they are a key feature of this highly acclaimed drama which premiered at Sundance last year and won multiple awards there as well as at the Independent Spirit Awards (given out just before the Oscars). A young man and his friend set their sights on taking possession of a large house in an upmarket neighborhood, which he believes was designed and built by his grandfather in the 40s. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the magic in the movie; for me it was just meandering and pointless. The only reason I’ve chosen to write about it is because of the extraordinary cinematography for which director Joe Talbot and DP Adam Newport-Berra should receive credit. The lighting in some scenes, especially the interior of the house, has a magical glow the likes of which I haven’t seen since the days of Haskell Wexler shooting middle America in Bound for Glory (1976) and Days of Heaven (1978). The camera work on the skateboarding scenes have a sense of grace, fluidity and dynamism. I found myself thinking that with a good script, these guys would be able to make a genuinely high quality, entertaining movie. And that is a very real possibility; in the past few years, Disney and Warner Bros. have hired the likes Taika Waititi, Gareth Edwards, Cate Shortland, Cathy Yan and Chloe Zhao out of relative obscurity to helm their effects-heavy franchise movies. Maybe we’ll see Joe Talbot do likewise soon.
So that was Part 8, hopefully my coda for my series about the notable films of 2019! I think this is the most comprehensive effort I have ever made to watch as many highly regarded films of a particular year; it’s been an enriching experience and a lot of fun to capture my impressions of these movies in this series of posts.