Streaming Movie Recap: July 2020, Part 2

Here’s part two of my streaming recap for July, featuring mini reviews of some more new releases!

Omar Epps and Nia Long in “Fatal Affair”

FATAL AFFAIR” (Netflix)

“Fatal Affair” is the sort of mediocre thriller you’d expect to find on the Lifetime Channel while channel surfing, and if those are the sort of movies you enjoy, you’ll likely find it a quick and easy watch.  Otherwise, you won’t get many thrills out of this tame and formulaic movie outside of a solid performance from lead Nia Long.  Long plays Ellie Warren, a San Francisco attorney who seemingly has it all.  She’s about to leave her job to start her own practice, and her husband Marcus (Stephen Bishop) have just moved out of the city to a gorgeous house on the beach while their daughter Brittany (Aubrey Cleland) is away at college.  But Ellie isn’t satisfied in her marriage, and when she reconnects with an old college friend, David (Omar Epps) at work, she comes dangerously close to engaging in an affair with him, only to recognize how wrong it is at the last minute.  Ellie moves on, but David doesn’t, and Ellie soon fears that David may be more dangerous than he lets on.  Epps doesn’t make a very engaging or believable villain, and while director Peter Sullivan manages to squeeze a couple of tense sequences out of the script, it fails to take enough risks to make it any more than the sort of predictable TV movie fare that makes a good guilty pleasure, but that we’ve also seen over and over again.  There are also a couple of odd moments toward the end of the film where the characters don’t seem to mourn or fully grasp the gravity of what happened to them, as the movie wraps everything up in too nice of a little bow.  “Fatal Affair” almost reaches “so bad it’s good” status, but manages to fall short of even that.  Runtime: 89 minutes. Rated TV-14. 2 out of 5 stars.

Sarah Burns, Nasim Pedrad, and Anna Camp in “Desperados”

DESPERADOS” (Netflix)

I’m not sure why I keep watching these raunchy Netflix rom-coms in the hopes that someday one of them will earn more than a one star review.  Directed by LP, “Desperados” stars Nasim Pedrad as Wesley, a woman who speaks her mind a little too much and is struggling to find a job or a boyfriend as a result.  When a blind date with Sean (Lamorne Morris) ends abruptly, Wesley immediately bumps into Jared (Robbie Amell).  Jared is seemingly the perfect guy, but when he doesn’t return her calls and texts for several days after they have been dating for a while, Wesley, along with her best friends Brooke (Anna Camp) and Kaylie (Sarah Burns), send him a horrible email.  When Jared calls to tell her that he just woke up from a coma in Mexico, Wesley decides that the only solution is to go to Mexico, break into his hotel room, and delete the email from all his devices before he is discharged from the hospital.  Rather than being clever, most of the ensuing scenarios feature cringe-worthy, gross humor that completely wastes Pedrad’s talents.  And despite her efforts, it’s pretty difficult to like her character, who doesn’t come to her senses until extremely late in the film.  She does have great chemistry with Morris, however; their scenes together are very sweet, and it’s a shame that they are sandwiched in between so much crap.  The supporting cast is largely wasted, and the story is so thin, I happened to pause the movie at one point thinking it was reaching its conclusion, only to find that I was only an hour in and there were still 45 minutes to go.  I would say that at least the Mexican locales are gorgeous, but I’m still trying to erase the dolphin scene from my memory.  Runtime: 105 minutes. Rated TV-MA. 1 out of 5 stars.

Joey King and Jacob Elordi in “The Kissing Booth 2”

THE KISSING BOOTH 2” (Netflix)

I have some good news to deliver about “The Kissing Booth 2”: it’s better than its predecessor, the 2018 teen rom-com “The Kissing Booth,” based on the book of the same name.  The bad news is, I hated the first movie, and this sequel isn’t that much of an improvement.  Vince Marcello is back in the director’s chair, as is Joey King in the lead role of high school senior Elle Evans.  After her boyfriend Noah (Jacob Elordi) leaves L.A. to attend college at Harvard, Elle has a hard time adjusting.  She’s still best friends with Noah’s brother Lee (Joel Courtney), and all their lives they’ve dreamed of attending Berkeley together, but now Elle is wondering if she’d rather go to school in Boston so she can be closer to Noah.  And while she suspects Noah may be cheating on her with one of his college friends, the glamorous Chloe (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), Elle becomes close to new student Marco (Taylor Perez), with whom she enters a dance content to try to win more money for college.  “The Kissing Booth 2” runs two hours and 10 minutes, and is so packed with plot it’s difficult to summarize.  It’s stuffed with tired setups that have predictable outcomes, dwelling ridiculously long on some of the side plots, like Lee’s strained relationship with his girlfriend Rachel (Meganne Young), while filling up more time with numerous montages.  The characters do grow and change, however, and appear to be making more mature decisions than they did in the first film, although I wonder at what point Elle and Lee are finally going to realize how controlling all the friend rules they have for each other are and throw them out the window (maybe in the inevitable third installment; 130 minutes and this movie still manages to end on a cliffhanger).  This film is a bit less misogynistic toward Elle’s character than the first one, but almost all of her motivation in the movie is driven less by her own desires and more by what Noah or Lee would want.  King is a delightful actress and she handles the film’s drama and occasional broad comedy well, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that she’s too good for these movies.  Runtime: 130 minutes. Rated TV-14. 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Zoe and Owen (voiced by Emily Blunt and John Krasinski) meet and fall in love at the circus in “Animal Crackers”

ANIMAL CRACKERS” (Netflix)

In terms of animated family movies, you could do far worse than “Animal Crackers,” but you could also do far better.  Directed by Scott Christian Sava and Tony Bancroft, the film is centered around the Huntington Brothers’ Circus and opens with parallel love stories: in the early 60s, Bob Huntington (James Arnold Taylor) falls in love with Talia (Tara Strong), and on their wedding day they are gifted with a box from Talia’s gypsy aunt Esmerelda (Harvey Fierstein).  Decades later, Bob’s nephew Owen (John Krasinski) meets and later proposes to Zoe (Emily Blunt) at the same circus, but leaves for a terrible job at a dog biscuit factory offered to him by Zoe’s father (Wallace Shawn).  After the circus is struck by tragedy, Owen discovers the box and its secret: when someone eats one of the animal crackers inside of it, they turn into that animal.  Owen and Zoe use it to help revive the circus, but Bob’s envious brother Horatio (Ian McKellan) seeks to stop them.  It’s a rather convoluted plot for a fairly straightforward premise.  And even though that premise is original, it isn’t explored creatively, instead relying on predictable story beats, unamusing gags, and even an out of place music number.  The character designs are dynamic and the animation is colorful, however, further proving that independent animators can turn out great feature work outside of a big studio.  The cast is stacked with a veritable who’s who of actors; besides those already mentioned, there’s also Danny DeVito, Gilbert Gottfried, Patrick Warburton, Raven-Symoné, and even Sylvester Stallone.  “Animal Crackers,” originally intended for release in 2017 before suffering setbacks with numerous distributors, isn’t great, but it had a long journey to get here, and it’s good enough to keep kids entertained.  Runtime: 105 minutes. Rated TV-Y7. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie in “Radioactive”

RADIOACTIVE” (Amazon Prime Video)

With “Radioactive,” director Marjane Satrapi throws out the usual biopic conventions in favor of a film that considers the lasting effects of its subject’s achievements as well as her life story.  That subject is Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist Marie Curie (played by Rosamund Pike).  The pacing of the film wavers between too rushed and too slow, as we hurry through her romance with fellow scientist and later husband Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) and their discovery of two new elements, but lingers on the devastating and lasting effects Pierre’s sudden death in a carriage accident had on her, as well as her subsequent affair with a married colleague, Paul Langevin (Aneurin Barnard), which resulted in a huge scandal.  Despite the film’s flaws, Satrapi—and Pike, through her committed performance—successfully blurs the lines between fantasy and reality as the story progresses and she brings the viewer inside Curie’s mind.  “Radioactive” is beautifully shot and lit, with many scenes colored with the same green tint as the radium Curie discovered.  In several flashes forward, Satrapi also gives us scenes of both the good and the bad effects of radioactivity, from cancer treatments to the atomic bomb.  It may be an approach that borders on pretentious, but it gives the viewer a broader perspective on Curie’s contributions to science that goes beyond the laboratory.  The film also spends some time on Curie’s later life, which many viewers may be less familiar with; in a moving sequence, we see Curie, alongside her 17-year-old daughter Irene (later to become a Nobel-winning scientist in her own right, and played by Anya Taylor-Joy), using technology she developed to aid wounded soldiers in the field during World War I.  “Radioactive,” as stuffed as it is, boldly pushes the boundaries of what a biopic can be, with fascinating results.  Runtime: 109 minutes. Rated PG-13. 4 out of 5 stars.

Beyoncé in a scene from her film “Black Is King”

BLACK IS KING” (Disney Plus)

Last year’s “live action” remake of Disney’s animated classic “The Lion King” was an abomination, but if it gave us “Black Is King,” then maybe it was worth it.  The film, which is directed by Beyoncé Knowles, is a visual album based on the soundtrack album she made for “The Lion King,” titled “The Gift.”  The abstract film celebrates Black culture in a variety of times and places through song, dance, and costumes, with an emphasis on African traditions.  The lessons from “The Lion King” are steeped in to create a stunning work of art that isn’t just visually breathtaking, but a perfect film for the current climate.  Queen Bey is clearly the star (and her talents are on full display), but she is joined by a bevy of other Black singers, dancers, rappers, and actors from around the world, with guest stars including Pharrell Williams, Kelly Rowland, Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o, and, perhaps most importantly, her own family.  Written by Beyoncé, along with Clover Hope and poet Yrs. Daley-Ward, “Black Is King” manages to be both very personal and very universal, and further cements Beyoncé—who has already created stunning visual albums centered around her music, such as 2016’s “Lemonade”—as one of the most important and influential artists of our time.  Runtime: 85 minutes. Rated TV-14. 5 out of 5 stars.

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