June was a pretty busy month for movies released on streaming platforms, particularly as several films originally intended for theatrical release made their debut on demand or on streaming services like Disney Plus instead due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve already reviewed some of those films (and I’ve linked my reviews below), but you can also check out my thoughts on some of the other movies that came out this month in the mini reviews below. My pick for June: Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” which is streaming on Netflix and is, for me, the best film of 2020 so far.
Directed by Josephine Decker and based on the novel of the same name, “Shirley” follows a young couple who go to stay with horror writer Shirley Jackson and her academic husband Stanley. The couples find themselves at odds with each other, particularly Shirley and young mother-to-be Rose, who becomes the inspiration for Shirley’s next novel. Starring Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, and Logan Lerman. Read my full review here.
“DA 5 BLOODS” (Netflix)
Director Spike Lee’s newest joint follows a group of Black Vietnam War veterans as they return to Vietnam to recover the remains of their friend and some gold that they buried years ago. Along the way, they are forced to face their lingering trauma and the fact that the war never really left them. Starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Chadwick Boseman. Read my full review here.
“ARTEMIS FOWL” (Disney Plus)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh and based on the popular book series by Eoin Colfer, “Artemis Fowl” is a family-friendly fantasy adventure about a 12-year-old genius who gets involved in the fairy world when he tries to rescue his captured father. Starring Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Nonso Azonie, Colin Farell, Josh Gad, and Judi Dench. Read my full review here.
“WASP NETWORK” (Netflix)
Directed by Olivier Assayas and based on a true story, this political thriller set in the early 1990s follows René González (Édgar Ramírez), a Cuban pilot and spy who defects to Florida and infiltrates a group of opponents of then-President Fidel Castro called the Brothers to the Rescue. All the while he’s really working for a secret Cuban organization known as the Wasp Network, led by Manuel Viramontez (Gael García Bernal). This occasionally interesting thriller becomes horribly convoluted thanks to the addition of characters like Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura), another Cuban pilot who settles in Miami and eventually meets and marries Anna Margarita Martinez (Ana de Armas). The human element is largely effective, however, thanks to a great performance from Penélope Cruz as René’s wife Olga, who struggles to hold her family together in Cuba while her husband is away. The film is punctuated at times with an attention-grabbing action sequences (such as one depicting the Cuban hotel bombings), but rambles in such a way that leaves the viewer confused as to what exactly is going on and who means what to who, suggesting that perhaps Assayas wasn’t the right director for this story. Runtime: 127 minutes. Rated TV-MA. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
“7500” (Amazon Prime Video)
“7500” is Patrick Vollrath’s feature directorial debut, and the first film star Joseph Gordon-Levitt has appeared in since 2016—and it’s a doozy. The title refers to the airplane code for a hijacking, and that’s exactly what happens in this thriller set entirely in the cockpit of a commercial plane flying from Berlin to Paris. Captain Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger) and copilot Tobias Ellis (Gordon-Levitt) are overrun by terrorists who try to take over the plane; while Tobias initially manages to shut them out of the cockpit, the stakes grow higher as they begin threatening the lives of passengers, including Tobias’ flight attendant partner. Vollrath successfully manages to create truly anxiety-inducing tension in an incredibly small physical space, making the most of close-ups and cuts between Tobias at the controls and the security footage showing what is happening just outside the cockpit. The film is so painfully tense that watching it isn’t exactly a pleasure, but it’s easy to appreciate Vollrath’s direction and Levitt’s convincing performance as Tobias wrestles with multiple moral dilemmas. The film becomes a study in how people behave under pressure, but its first half is much better than its second, when Tobias gains some sympathy with one of the hijackers, a young man named Vedat (Omid Memar). Something about the Islamic extremist bad guys versus the American hero rubbed me the wrong way too; I’m not sure that’s the kind of story we need to be seeing right this moment. Still, “7500” is a solid, claustrophobic thriller, and Vollrath shows a lot of promise as a new master of suspense. Runtime: 92 minutes. Rated R. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
“EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA” (Netflix)
This comedy directed by David Dobkin is inspired by the real life Eurovision Song Contest, an annual event that is so strange in and of itself that I wouldn’t call this film a spoof of it as much as a tribute. The Fire Saga of the title is the band name of Icelandic singing duo Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) who have dreamed of winning the Eurovision Song Contest since they were children. Their performance in Iceland’s preselection concert is a disaster, but when all the other entrants are the victims of a freak accident, Fire Saga is sent to represent Iceland in the contest. Sigrit is a genuinely gifted singer/songwriter who loves Lars, but Lars is so focused on the spectacle and winning the contest that he refuses to return her love. Let me just say that Sigrit deserves way, way better, and this comedy trope of girl ending up with the goofy, ignorant guy is getting pretty old. But otherwise, for all its dumb jokes and overlong runtime, watching Eurovision is a pretty joyous experience. The songs are upbeat and fun, and the film perfectly captures the kookiness of Eurovision (which many American audiences may be unfamiliar with), even featuring cameos from past Eurovision participants and casting real-life Eurovision host Graham Norton as himself to play the host in the film. Ferrell plays his usual dumb guy with a big personality, but McAdams is more the standout here, balancing a performance that is both funny and sincere. With the real Eurovision being canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this movie is just about the next best thing. Also starring Pierce Brosnan as Lars’ father, and Dan Stevens as flamboyant Russian Eurovision participant Alexander Lemtov. Runtime: 123 minutes. Rated PG-13. 3 out of 5 stars.
“FEEL THE BEAT” (Netflix)
“Feel the Beat” is just one of several movies to be released this month that are conventional, but also just plain fun. The film, directed by Elissa Down, centers around April (Sofia Carson), a self-centered dancer trying to make it on Broadway. After she inadvertently offends a big time producer, April returns to her small Wisconsin hometown, where she gets roped into coaching the kids on the town’s failing dance team. April’s success becomes tied with that of the kids when she realizes that the contest finals will be judged by Broadway producer Welly Wong (Rex Lee), but she starts to warm up to the kids over time. Every beat of this film is predictable, from April’s inevitable change of heart as she realizes what’s truly important, to her reconnecting with her ex-boyfriend Nick (Wolfgang Novogratz, who isn’t given much to do outside of be the generic love interest). But “Feel the Beat” does contain several nice touches, among them developing the relationship between April and Nick’s younger Sarah (Eva Hauge), who felt abandoned by April when she moved to New York. There are some small steps taken toward inclusion with the addition of a deaf girl on the team and having the characters regularly sign throughout the film, and by having the coach of the town’s football team fully supporting both his daughter and son’s interest in dance (this movie easily could have taken the tough guys don’t dance approach to add some further conflict, but it didn’t, and that was quite nice to see). A lot of the film’s success overall is due to Carson’s delicious turn as a bad girl, something we haven’t really seen much from the Disney Channel actress before. Her tough love approach with her students is fun to watch, but most importantly, the actors all seem to be having a genuinely great time in this movie, and that joy translates to the audiences. It may end on an overly sappy note, and may contain several subplots that don’t really go anywhere, but “Feel the Beat” will still get your toes tapping. Runtime: 109 minutes. Rated TV-G. 3 out of 5 stars.
Directed by Sam Feder, “Disclosure” is a documentary that takes an unprecedented look at how transgender people have been depicted in film and television, all the way from the earliest silent movies to current TV series like “Pose.” Through film clips and commentary from passionate, knowledgeable transgender figures in the entertainment industry such as Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, Alexandra Billings, and Lilly Wachowski (who also all offer insight into the personal and professional struggles they faced during and after their transition), “Disclosure” is a thorough and often heart-breaking look at how media has played with the concept of gender identity over the decades, often for laughs, and often without the involvement of any actual trans people. It may not do anything groundbreaking technically, but watching it is an enlightening experience that will make you reconsider films and shows you’ve likely watched numerous times before without giving offensive scenes a second thought. Watch this movie, period. Runtime: 100 minutes. Rated TV-MA. 5 out of 5 stars.
“MY SPY” (Amazon Prime Video)
“My Spy” is yet another coronavirus casualty to make the transition from a theatrical release to streaming, but maybe that’s for the best (although this film is far superior to the aforementioned “Artemis Fowl,” which also suffered the same fate). This action comedy directed by Peter Segal predictably follows a familiar formula: macho CIA agent JJ (Dave Bautista) is charmed by a precocious child (Sophie, played by Chloe Coleman). In the film, JJ—along with tech operator Bobbi (Kristen Schaal)—is tasked with surveilling Sophie and her mother, Kate (Parisha Fitz-Henley), whose dangerous arms dealer brother-in-law Victor Marquez (Greg Bryk) may be looking for them. When Sophie discovers JJ and Bobbi watching them, she blackmails JJ: she won’t expose their operation if he will teach her to be an action hero like him, and keep her company as her mom works a lot and she’s having trouble making new friends. There’s nothing especially remarkable about “My Spy,” outside of Coleman’s stand-out performance (and she does have good chemistry with Bautista), and Schaal’s Bobbi, who gets a bit more of a serious subplot than anticipated when she feels left out when JJ starts teaching Sophie all his tricks, but not her. A lot of this film is kind of a head-scratcher though. Its marketing makes it look like a solid kid’s movie, but its PG-13 rating says otherwise. As a result, it’s stuck in a sort of limbo, not fully appealing to either kids or adults. On top of that, certain scenes could be considered creepy, for the wrong reasons, and the final sequence that glorifies violence through the eyes of a nine-year-old is…strange. Still, “My Spy” is actually a lot better than it looks. It may not be memorable, but it is a fun and easy watch if you are looking for a way to stay occupied for a couple hours while you are at home. Runtime: 99 minutes. Rated PG-13. 3 out of 5 stars.