Available on Netflix on November 24, 2020
Film Rating: 6/10
Doomed from the outset–the hatred for JD Vance’s best-selling memoir combined with a growing dislike for director Ron Howard’s Americana cinema-style translated into scathing reviews. It doesn’t help that Howard’s straight adaptation of the least effective parts of the book takes nearly an hour to gear up.
The version of “Hillbilly Elegy” told in this Netflix film is about Vance (Gabriel Basso), a young man from Ohio, who manages to rise from a humble, poor upbringing to military service, graduation from Ohio State, and attendance of Yale law school. What’s sad is that the source material is about so much more than that.
A hybrid narrative, Vance’s book follows the migration of Appalachians from Kentucky to more industrialized Ohio. It’s been criticized on many levels, but Vance’s deeply personal take on his family history is fascinating.
By contrast, Howard’s movie, written by Vanessa Taylor (see “The Shape of Water”), mostly sidesteps those elements in favor of a familiar family drama. The film suffers from a lack of a sharp point of view. If only Taylor’s screenplay would have been more ambitious and approached the material with a “hacked” documentary-type movie akin to Adam McKay’s exuberant “The Big Short.”
Unfortunately, many viewers will check out of the soapy elements early and never see Glenn Close’s Oscar-worthy moment late in the film. And when that moment comes, it’s hard not to be moved by Close’s spirited turn.
“Hillbilly Elegy” is a weak effort only of interest for a terrific supporting performance.
Film Rating: 5/10
Available for rent on various streaming platforms
Jackie Chan is an amazing actor with a cross-over appeal that has spanned decades. His remarkable physicality is legendary. Despite some fun, well-choreographed sequences, “Vanguard” is not up to his usual standards.
In the film, Chan plays the director of a security firm (named Vanguard) tasked with keeping their high-end clients safe from international killers. When agency operatives thwart an assassination attempt, the assassins turn to the mark’s daughter to keep up the pressure. The action swiftly moves to Africa, where Chan and his team have to brave an onslaught of gun-toting mercenaries and the region’s dangers.
One notorious scene has a CGI lion threatening everyone. The lion effects are terrible, as is some of the hokey hand-to-hand combat. The unhinged final chase sequence is a jokey mashup of stunt driving and poorly rendered special and visual effects. And the villains are hopelessly incompetent.
“Vanguard” fails to take advantage of the re-teaming of director Stanley Tong and Chan, who found success with “Supercop” and, most notably, 1995’s “Rumble in the Bronx.” But fans of martial arts films do get some amusing set-pieces.
Review Rating: 7/10
Streaming widely on various platforms
Director Ricardo Perez-Selsky’s creative love story traps its protagonist, Ian (Chase Hinton), in a very modern situation. Ian is a struggling artist searching for the love of his life online. His friend, a successful fellow painter, warns him that he’s putting too much pressure on himself. But just when Ian is ready to give up, he meets Sofia (Johanna Sol) on an online dating platform.
After talking with Sofia, Ian thinks she may be the perfect woman for him. But there’s a catch, Sofia is in Mexico taking care of her sick mother. As time passes, Ian begins to wonder whether this ideal match is for real.
“IRL,” an abbreviation for “in real life,” will resonate with millions who now find their everyday routine conducted virtually. With the virus, online dating platforms have pushed video options and even suggested virtual dating. While “IRL” was made before the shutdown, the narrative seems timely today more than ever before.
Hinton is a solid lead. He’s good at playing tortured and frustrated. Since so much of the action takes place on the phone as Ian communicates with Sofia, the movie relies almost exclusively on Hinton’s performance. He dominates screen time, making the most of a series of one-sided conversations.
And finally, we get a respectable Eric Roberts appearance in a tiny but well-made indie. He plays Ian’s overbearing father, a role that Roberts appears to relish. Please give me more of this from one of the hardest working actors in low-budget cinema. Check it out, Roberts has 601 IMDB credits and counting.
“IRL” might annoy some viewers early but stick with it. The ending is a bit provocative, which makes the strained journey worthwhile.
A RottenTomatoes.com Tomatometer-approved critic, Jonathan W. Hickman is also an entertainment lawyer, college professor, novelist, and filmmaker. He’s a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, The Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Georgia Film Critics Association. For more information about Jonathan visit: FilmProductionLaw.com or DailyFIlmFix.com