As we’re fast approaching the end of August (what??) I’m recapping some of the new movies released on streaming services over the past month. There sure were some stinkers, but as we start to edge closer and closer to award season, some potential contenders are starting to pop up. Be sure to check out Sundance darling “CODA,” which I review below, on Apple TV+, and you can also read my full review of Leos Carax’s surreal musical “Annette,” which is now streaming on Prime Video, here.
From its very first scene, “Vivo” wraps you up in its joyous celebration of Latin music. Vivo (voiced by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote the film’s songs) is a kinkajou in Cuba, making music with his partner, an elderly performer named Andrés (Juan de Marcos González). Their first song, “One of Kind,” performed on the streets of Havana, introduces the characters and their culture in a fast-paced number filled with dancing and Miranda’s signature raps. Then, Andrés receives a unexpected letter from his unrequited love, Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan), a now-famous singer inviting him to come to her final concert in Miami- and giving him the opportunity to finally tell her how he feels. But when Andrés suddenly passes away, it’s up to Vivo to go to Miami and deliver the song Andrés wrote for Marta to her, which he does with the help of Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), Andrés’ eager great-niece. After this stupendous opening, however, “Vivo” never feels as engaging, opting for a fairly by-the-books narrative to take us from Havana to Miami, where the film does at least end on an emotional high note. But while it might not be the most memorable movie, all of the songs are bops, and the colorful renderings of its environments, especially the bright lights of Miami, are beautiful. The highlight, however, is a couple of sequences that flash back to Andrés and Marta’s earlier relationship using retro-style 2D animation. The story may sag in the middle, but this joyous celebration of Latin artists and culture- and Kirk DeMicco’s film, which made its way from Dreamworks to Sony Animation, hasn’t been marketed super well by Netflix- is a family movie that’s well worth checking out. Runtime: 95 minutes. Rated PG.
“THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER” (Netflix)
As the credits rolled at the end of director Augustine Frizzell’s “The Last Letter from Your Lover” and the card “based on the book by Jojo Moyes” appeared, all I could do was nod my head and think “yeah, that tracks.” Obviously, I’m not familiar with the film’s source material, but “The Last Letter from Your Lover” ended up being exactly the sort of pretty but generic love story I expected. The film tracks parallel romances: one set in the present day, the other in the mid-1960s. As reporter Ellie Haworth (Felicity Jones) tries to unravel the story of a secret affair after finding a stash of old love letters, the film flashes back in time to tell that story, in which Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley), wife of a wealthy but cold businessman, falls in love with journalist Anthony O’Hare (Callum Turner). Meanwhile, Ellie finds herself falling for the archivist (Nabhaan Rizwan) helping her on the project. Putting Woodley in the period piece part and Jones in the modern role is an unexpected bit of casting that overall works, but there’s no denying that, despite the charm of both actors, Ellie’s romance feels much more forced and less interesting than the story she is investigating. “The Last Letter from Your Lover” is a sleek-looking drama and it’s fun to watch Woodley move through 60s London in a bevy of beautiful vintage clothes, but there is neither enough heat nor enough interesting goings-on to make this movie any more than a mildly pleasant but immediately forgettable watch. Runtime: 110 minutes. Rated TV-MA.
“CODA” (Apple TV Plus)
When “CODA” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, it received immediate rave reviews and was heavily awarded at the end of the festival. Watching it now, it’s easy to seen why. “CODA” is the sort of heart-warming crowd-pleaser that is impossible not to love, warts and all. Written and directed by Sian Heder, this remake of the 2014 French film “La Famille Bélier” centers around the Rossi family, who have a fishing business in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Husband and wife Frank and Jackie (Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin) and their oldest son Leo (Daniel Durant) are deaf; their daughter Ruby (Emilia Jones) is not. In fact, Ruby has a beautiful voice and loves to sing, a passion that sometimes isolates her from her family who can’t share in it. As Ruby takes singing lessons with her choir teacher Mr. V (Eugenio Derbez) in preparations for an audition for Berklee, she struggles to continue being the main interpreter for her family when helping them with their business. Story-wise, “CODA” hits some familiar and predictable beats, and it feels like the ending wraps things up a little too easily. But this film wears its heart on its sleeve, and there isn’t a moment where it isn’t making you laugh or cry. Jones, who has a really lovely singing voice, perfectly conveys the struggle of needing to grow up early in order to help out her family, while still being a teenager fighting to make sense of her place in the world. “CODA” cast deaf actors in its lead roles, and seeing a film that centers so strongly around them and portrays them in all manner of life, work, and relationships, is a huge step for inclusivity and understanding. Kotsur and Matlin are both funny and moving as Ruby’s loving parents, and Durant is a marvelous discovery. Runtime: 111 minutes. Rated PG-13.
“THE KISSING BOOTH 3” (Netflix)
Well, I’ve come this far— I could retain some scrap of dignity, but being a completionist I felt the need to see this trilogy to its faltering conclusion. Directed by Vince Marcello, this final installment in the “The Kissing Booth” trilogy, which was secretly filmed back to back with the second movie, sees high school student Elle Evans (Joey King) struggling to decide whether she should attend Berkeley with her best friend Lee (Joel Courtney) as they had always planned, or Harvard, where her boyfriend and Lee’s brother Noah (Jacob Elordi) is. Like its predecessors, “The Kissing Booth 3” sees Elle spending an unhealthy amount of time letting the men in her life dictate all her decisions. Even though the finale sees Elle taking a step in a more positive direction, it feels like too little too late. King brings a lot of enthusiasm to her role while the supporting cast continues to feel overly broody, and the inclusion of characters from the second movie like Noah’s friend Chloe (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) and Elle’s previous flame Marco (Taylor Zakhar Perez), whose storylines were pretty definitively resolved in the previous film, feels unnecessary here. The middle part of the film involves Elle and the gang spending the summer staying at Lee and Noah’s parents’ beach house to help them prepare to sell it, checking off Elle and Lee’s summer bucket list, and a lot of shenanigans that feel immature even for a light teen rom-com. Hey, at least this one had a runtime of under two hours. Runtime: 112 minutes. Rated TV-14.
“RESORT TO LOVE” (Netflix)
The latest in Netflix’s line of Hallmark Channel-esque fluff is directed by Steven Tsuchida and stars Christina Milan as Erica, a singer who experiences a breakdown in both her career and engagement just as she’s on the brink of something big. She takes a job as a singer at a Mauritius island resort, where it just so happens she will be singing at her ex-fiance Jason’s (Jay Pharoah) wedding—but Jason hasn’t told his new bride-to-be about his past with Erica. Circumstances force Erica to confront any lingering feelings and hurt she has surrounding Jason, all while fighting off an attraction to his brother Caleb (Sinqua Walls). If you come away from “Resort to Love” disappointed, you probably went into it with too-high expectations. It’s nice to see a movie like this center so much around the protagonist making peace with her past, but it feels like it takes too much time away from developing her new romance. And few of the sequences in “Resort to Love” feel either funny or romantic. But Milan is charming, and her presence makes up for a lot of the movie’s shortcomings. Runtime: 101 minutes. Rated PG.
I can’t remember the last time I watched a thriller that was so unspeakably boring. Ferdinando Cito Filomarino’s “Beckett” is an attempted homage to 70s political thrillers in style, and Hitchcock’s wrong man movies in substance, but it’s too dull to drum up the necessary intrigue. John David Washington stars as the titular character, who is vacationing in Greece with his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander, whose presence in this movie I seriously question). They change their plans due to some political unrest outside their hotel in Athens, but while on a road trip out of the city, a car accident leaves April dead and Beckett the witness to something he shouldn’t have seen—something that gets him caught up in the struggle between a far-right organization and activist groups and sends him running for his life. The plethora of chases and shoot-outs in “Beckett” feel dull, the conversations lack tension, and the overall plot lacks urgency. Washington is fine in the role for a bit—as a confused average joe way out of his depth, he’s convincingly anxious—but after a while he comes off as just too one-note and overwrought to be a protagonist we can get behind. And despite being set in Europe, “Beckett” never takes advantage of the exotic locales to create a visually exciting environment. Vicky Krieps costars as Lena, one of the political activists, but like Vikander, she is given little of importance or interest to do. Runtime: 110 minutes. Rated TV-MA.