By Rick M. Pezzullo
It has been a difficult year for the movie industry, but as we look toward 2021, many studios are putting an increasing amount of quality content onto the multitude of streaming services available. Here are a few recent releases that you may want to check out.
Wonder Woman 1984
The newest installment to the DC cinematic universe looks to build off the success of its critically-acclaimed predecessor. The story revolves around Diana Prince as she lives her life without her lost love, Steve Trevor. She meets Barbara Minerva, an insecure, but brilliant geologist at the museum where she works and they develop an unlikely friendship amidst the discovery of a mysterious stone.
Pedro Pascal portrays Maxwell Lord, a power-hungry businessman who is much worse off than he lets on and wants to harness the power of the stone for his own personal gain.
Set in the 1980s, those born in that era will appreciate the nostalgia that comes with the fashion and culture that the film does an excellent job of utilizing. However, as the film progresses, the plot becomes riddled with holes and frankly ridiculous even for a superhero movie. You’ll find yourself with many questions that are left unexplained and wondering how that is possible given the lengthy run time of two-and-a-half hours.
Although the actors do their best with a flawed script, I found Pascal to be overacting at times, which is a shame considering his recent success as the lead in the Mandalorian. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine rekindle their chemistry and Kristen Wiig is able to put in a solid effort in a role that didn’t seem suited to her at first glance.
I was entertained enough to get through the movie, but it certainly did not live up to the expectations brought on by the original.
Where to Watch: HBO Max
Based on The New York Times best-selling memoir and directed by Ron Howard, “Hillbilly Elegy” centers around the life of J.D. Vance, an aspiring lawyer who looks to escape the impoverished and troubled past he endured growing up in rural Ohio.
J.D.’s mother, portrayed by Amy Adams, struggles with drug addiction and failed relationships that leave her unfit to be a parent to two children. His grandmother, played by Glenn Close, steps in multiple times to try and lead J.D. down a more fortuitous path in life.
As J.D. grows older, despite his success, he feels a moral obligation to his family and tries to juggle graduating from school and taking care of his family, who desperately need his support.
Although the cliche escape poverty storyline may be overdone in Hollywood, this film does a great job of encapsulating real emotional conflict along with societal barriers that are ever-present in today’s America. The acting, as you would expect, is top notch from two of Hollywood’s leading actresses, and Gabriel Lasso puts in a solid performance as Vance.
Despite poor reviews and as someone who read the memoir, I found “Hillbilly Elegy” to be an emotionally fulfilling film that is certainly worthy of a watch.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Set in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, “Sylvie’s Love” is an old-fashioned love story revolving around Sylvie Parker, played by Tessa Thompson, and Robert Halloway, played by Nnamdi Asomugha.
Robert is a talented jazz musician who works at the record store owned by Sylvie and her family. They have a natural connection and chemistry that makes the situation difficult for Sylvie as she is already engaged to a man serving in the military during the Korean War.
Thompson puts in an excellent performance that we’ve come to expect from the budding star and Asomugha is surprisingly exceptional as well, considering he was best known for being an All-Pro cornerback for the Oakland Raiders. Although the acting is excellent, there are certain unexplained plot holes that may leave you confused and unsatisfied.
“Sylvie’s Love” is a solid date night film that will pull at your romantic heartstrings and long for the booming jazz culture from decades ago.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video
Let Them All Talk
This comedy/drama, directed by Steven Soderbergh, centers around Alice Hughes (Meryl Streep), a famous author working on a new manuscript. She is being honored with an award in England, but cannot fly due to health reasons. Her agent, Karen, suggests that she take a ship instead in order to receive her award, while also trying to find information on her next work.
Alice invites two old college friends whom she’s lost touch with as well as her nephew, Tyler. During the trip, old wounds resurface and new love emerges, which results in many awkward social encounters.
The acting, led by Streep and Lucas Hedges, is outstanding as one would expect. The plot, however, becomes a little difficult to follow as you try to understand pieces of the characters’ past. At the end of the film, you might find yourself wondering what you’re supposed to take away. I was expecting a little more substance from a film with this type of star power, but I was still interested enough to enjoy it.
If you like Streep, you’ll enjoy “Let Them All Talk,” but it may you leave you unsatisfied if you’re expecting an Oscar contender.
Where to Watch: HBO Max
The newest Disney/Pixar film follows middle school teacher Joe Gardner, an aspiring jazz musician who falls in an open manhole right before he’s about to get his big break.
Joe’s soul and body are separated and he tries desperately to return to Earth to fulfill his life’s passion. Through his journey with an unborn soul, known as 22, Joe learns lessons about himself and his purpose in life while developing an unlikely friendship in the process.
“Soul” is funny, heartwarming and has meaningful lessons that transcend all ages. It does have similarities to a previous Disney film, “Inside Out” in terms of character style, so it does lack originality in that regard, but “Soul” is an excellent addition to the Disney library and has likeable characters and plenty of wit to keep all ages interested.
Where to Watch: Disney+