Cinema Clash Podcast: Antebellum; Blackbird; The Way I See It; H is for Happiness; Cobra Kai

Quickie Review: Antebellum

Antebellum could have been a seminal film for the times – if the story made any sense. It aims high, but gets bogged down in a metaphorical morass about past and present issues relating to race, class and gender. The film is billed as a high-concept psychological thriller/horror movie from the producers of the Jordan Peele gems Get Out and Us. But it fails to measure up, and the ending is far from satisfying. Fortunately, it was under two hours so the time did not feel like a total waste. More like a disappointment.

Review: The Broken Hearts Gallery

After a string of romantic dramedies best described as watchable but weak, along comes The Broken Hearts Gallery, a funny, smart and satisfying meet-cute that is – rather sadly – opening only in actual theaters. The movie puts a fresh spin on a tried and true formula with a pair of likeable leads in Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan, Blockers) and Nick (Dacre Montgomery, TV’s Stranger Things). Plus, a dash of Bernadette Peters!

Review: The Social Dilemma

Let’s say I write up a quick review on this documentary about the double-edged sword that is social media, search engines and our addiction to smart phones. And then I post the review to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Then you like, comment, or share it (wishful thinking, perhaps). And then you start getting ads and posts relating to what you commented on. And like-minded friends (and maybe a few strangers) weigh in on what you liked, commented on, or shared. And then you start getting all sorts of similar posts and ads relating to the subject matter of this review.

That, in a nutshell, is the point of The Social Dilemma, available now on Netflix. We apparently are all puppets on a social string, manipulated by a small number of engineers in Silicon Valley tasked with monetizing all those “free” services and platforms we devote “x number of hours” to on a daily basis. Cue the alarm emoji!

Quickie Review: Love, Guaranteed

The only thing guaranteed about Love, Guaranteed is that you’ll barely remember watching it. In fact, I almost forgot to write this review. As Netflix original romcoms go, this one is just plain weak. The premise seems engaging enough: An earnest do-gooder of a lawyer named Susan (Rachael Leigh Cook) desperately needs to pay some bills to keep her small office afloat. So she agrees to take the case of Nick (Damon Wayans Jr.), a charming, high-paying client (Damon Wayans Jr.) determined to sue a dating website for fraud. He’s followed all the rules, and the fine print – going on at least 1,000 dates (“breakfast, lunch and dinner”) – but alas, no love match. He not only wants his money back – he wants damages as well. To the tune of, say, one-million dollars. Or at least a half-million. Certainly not the piddly 100k the site owner (Heather Graham) is willing to shell out to settle the case. As if you can really put a price on love anyway!

Review: Mulan (2020)

Fortunately, she still brings honor to us all. Only this time, it’s in live action. That means Mulan kicks butt as a warrior – without breaking into song (as she did in the popular 1998 G-rated animated version). The trade-off: strong acting, scenery, and special effects. It’s a bit like watching a Chinese version of Wonder Woman.

Review: The Mole Agent

The Mole Agent feels very much like a narrative film even though it’s a documentary, and that’s a good thing. It tells the story of Sergio, an 83-year-old man recruited by a private investigator in Chile to go undercover in a nursing home. The daughter of one of the residents thinks her mom may be suffering abuse there. But rather than becoming a film about the evils of institutional care for the elderly, it’s a warm and humorous take on a community of old people who Sergio can’t help but grow to care for.

Review: Bill & Ted Face the Music

Talk about raising the stakes! In 1989, Bill & Ted – informed by a visitor from the future that they were destined for musical greatness – went on a most Excellent Adventure through time, to save themselves from a failing grade in high school history. In 1991, those same metalhead slackers went on a Bogus Journey involving The Grim Reaper, robotic duplicates, and a Battle of the Bands. Now – 25 years later – Bill S. Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan (Keanu Reeves), aka “Wyld Stallyns,” must write the song that will save the entire universe – in the next 75 minutes! Fortunately, they still have access to their time-travel phone booth, and they have kids old enough to help: Bill’s daughter Thea (Samara Weaving) and Ted’s daughter Billie (Brigitte Lundy-Paine). And let’s just say – the apples don’t fall far from the tree.

Review: The Bare Necessity (Perdrix)

This French comedy is definitely for those who like their films on the quirky side. In it a young woman named Juliette (Maud Wyler, Blue Is the Warmest Colour) is passing through a sleepy French town when her car is stolen by a naked woman. At the police station she meets Police Captain Pierre Perdrix (Swann Arlaud) who explains that the town has a problem with revolutionary nudists, as if that’s as natural as the sun coming up every day. Meanwhile there are tanks in the street because there’s about to be a WWII reenactment with Nazis. But since she has nowhere to go and everything she owned was in the car because she was “migrating,” she crashes with Pierre and his odd family. Think Wes Anderson only less stylized. And it’s a given that Pierre and Juliette will end up together.

Review: All Together Now

We must be in the final throes of summer, with yet another teen drama based on a popular Young Adult (YA) book. Netflix brings us All Together Now, a sometimes heartbreaking but also uplifting tale about a friendly, selfless, cheery High School teen struggling to stay optimistic in the face of mounting adversity. The film is based on the book “Sorta Like a Rock Star” by Matthew Quick, and the vibe is about what you’d expect from the producers of engaging teen movies Love, Simon and The Fault in Our Stars.

Review: Driven to Abstraction

As the saying goes, when something seems to good to be true, it probably is. Driven to Abstraction is a documentary about the biggest art scandal of this century. I remember being fascinated by the story when the news first hit in the early 2000s. One of the oldest art galleries in America was accused of selling dozens of fake paintings by many of the greats of the Abstract Expressionist period – Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, Motherwell, Deibenkorn. The scam was exposed when one of those Pollocks was examined and the buyer was informed that it was a forgery. From there others began checking the paintings they’d bought from Ann Freedman, the highly-respected president of the gallery. And before it was over at least 40 other modern masterpieces turned out to be forgeries, and the Knoedler & Company gallery was forced to shut its doors after 165 years. At the center of the doc is the still unanswered question, was Ms. Freeman a greedy and willing participant or was she duped by a great scam artist?