Movies Till Dawn: What’s New for 2020? (Part 2)

Parasite” (2019, Universal Home Entertainment) Impoverished and terminally downtrodden, the Kim family appears to strike upon a foolproof (if ruthless) plan to alleviate their financial woes: they charm, beguile and lie their way into jobs as domestics for a wealthier family, only to discover that the grass on the other side is not only less green, but also decidedly toxic. Jaw-dropping Best Picture Winner (among other Oscar laurels) is a parody/parable about class and privilege from Korean director Bong Joon-ho (“Okja,” “The Host”) that underscores, in savagely comic (and sometimes just plain savage) terms, the insurmountable gulf between the haves and have-nots, as well as the inevitable eruption it causes, resulting in everything from shocking violence to the 2016 presidential election. A brutal but honest film for brutal times, which undoubtedly accounts for its popularity and overwhelming critical response (though the exceptional performances of the cast, led by Bong regular Song Kang Ho, certainly helped); Universal’s Blu-ray includes an interview with the director.

Mister America” (2019, Magnolia Home Entertainment) Improvised extension of the comedy web series/podcast “On Cinema at the Cinema,” with hosts Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington reprising their hapless/deranged screen personas; here, loose cannon Tim wants to unseat the district attorney that ruined his nascent EDM career, while Greg tries to stop a film crew from documenting his disastrous campaign. Fans of the podcast will appreciate the leads (who co-wrote/co-produced with Eric Wareheim, among others) taking on the know-nothing politics of the day, but others may find that “Mister” aims for obvious targets with broad swings. Magnolia’s DVD includes commentary by cast and crew, several faux campaign ads and a special “On Cinema” episode.

Last Christmas” (2019, Universal Home Entertainment) A health scare leaves Emilia Clarke with little interest in life beyond self-medication (alcohol and one-night stands) and her job in a London Christmas shop until the arrival of Henry Golding, who delivers holiday-enhanced appreciation for the everyday. Confectionary-light romantic comedy, co-written by Emma Thompson (who also plays Clarke’s mother) and directed by Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”), which plays directly to the genre’s core audience with lots of meet-cute moments, a heady whiff of nostalgia from needle drops of the George Michael title track, and acres of character quirk borrowed from Richard Curtis‘s playbook; it’s sweet, makes London look gorgeous (thanks to John Schwartzman) and goes down with relative ease, which is also to say that it’s largely insubstantial. Universal’s Blu-ray/DVD includes a vast amount of extras, including deleted scenes, an alternate ending, blooper reels, and behind-the-scenes/EPK featurettes.

Standing Up, Falling Down” (2019, Shout! Studious) Bittersweet indie with Ben Schwartz as a failed comic who leaves LA to lick his wounds in his hometown; there, he meets alcoholic dermatologist Billy Crystal, who provides him with a master class in downward mobility. Directorial debut for screenwriter Matt Ratner (“Manson Family Values”) benefits greatly from his leads, who radiate wounded charm and pathos in equal measure; they’re well supported by uniformly great players, including Grace Gummer, Kevin Dunn, Jill Hennessey, and Debra Monk, all of whom help guide the film out of its occasional drift into schmaltzy waters. “Standing Up” opens in select theaters on February 21 and is available on demand from various streaming services on the same day.

White Snake” (2019, Shout! Factory/GKids) Sumptuous-looking but slight Chinese animated feature based in part on the legend of the same name, which has been made into countless films, television series, operas and plays; here, the action takes place before the folk tale, with snake spirit Blanca losing her memory and partnering with a hunter (and eventual love interest) to recover her identity while her fellow snakes are locked in war with humanity. A preponderance of slick and/or cutesy character design and dialogue (there’s a talking, singing dog sidekick) occasionally undermines the exceptional creatures and landscapes and more mature elements of the story, but on the whole, “White Snake” remains a solid animated adventure for older kids and adults. The Blu-ray/DVD includes an interview with co-director Ji Zhao, storyboard excerpts and a music video.

Genius Party/Genius Party Beyond” (2007/2008, Shout! Factory/GKids) More anime, this time in the form of 12 shorts from a host of talented and eclectic filmmakers and Studio 4°C, bundled in one Blu-ray by Shout and GKids. The subject matter is far-ranging, but is largely anchored in various visions of the future, from apocalyptic (Shinji Kimura‘s zombie-filled “Deathtic 4”) to speculative (the ruminative “Gala” from Mahiro Maeda). Viewers’ tastes will vary according to subject matter and style, which again, ranges from aggressive manga (the highly caffeinated “Moondrive”) to more traditional animation (the Serling-esque “Doorbell”), but Maasaki Yuasa‘s “Happy Machine” manages to be visually striking, terrifying, and endearing, all at the same time. In widescreen and Japanese with English subtitles.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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