From big-name blockbusters to festival favorites, September brought an influx of diverse films to a variety of streaming services and online platforms. While The Daily Californian’s arts & entertainment department works tirelessly to catch them all, some releases inevitably fall through the cracks. Luckily, film beat reporters Olive Grimes and Maya Thompson are here to help you stay up to date on all the new releases.
Live-action Disney remakes are now a bona fide franchise of their own — and a controversial one at that. The 2020 installment of “Mulan” is no different: From ambivalent fans to COVID-19 delays to several politically driven calls to boycott, “Mulan” is a heavily anticipated film for relatively few of the right reasons.
Keeping with tradition of its live-action predecessors, “Mulan” is categorically worse than its animated source material. The most immediate offender is its screenplay: Gone is the meticulous pacing and attention to character that made the original film so memorable. In its place is a messy, unsubtle simulacrum that removes more depth than it creates. Previous live-action remakes have been panned for their lack of thematic subtlety, but the focus-grouped faux feminist stylings of “Mulan” — more often cringe-inducingly clumsy than thought-provoking — are simply a new low.
The film also disappoints in its stylistic choices: The absence of the original’s iconic musical numbers leaves a noticeable hole that the film does little to fill. There’s a decidedly new approach to its visuals, drawing heavily from gritty fantasy and classic wuxia. But even its admittedly charming visual direction can’t prevent “Mulan” from feeling like a bland, vapid cash-in.
— Olive Grimes
Keira Knightley continues to glisten as the crown jewel of period pieces. Her newest drama-comedy “Misbehaviour,” directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, captures the real story of the 1970 Miss World beauty pageant in London — and the group of women’s liberation activists who disrupted it.
“Misbehaviour” highlights two parallel storylines that remain separate until the film’s climax and conclusion. The first plot centers on the predominantly white women’s liberation movement, focusing on Sally Alexander (Knightley) and fierce radical Jo Robinson, played by an equally captivating Jessie Buckley. The second story peers inside the beauty pageant, following the trials of two Black women as they navigate an institution that historically celebrates white beauty standards. The contestants are Miss Grenada, also known as Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and Pearl Jansen (Loreece Harrison), called “Miss Africa South” as she is the Black representative from apartheid-era South Africa.
The film exposes how white women and women of color do not share the same political or social struggles, demonstrating how white blind spots preclude mainstream feminism from promoting true equality. While the film occasionally bites off more than its comedic tone can chew, “Misbehaviour” boasts a talented cast and articulates an important story with contemporary resonance.
— Maya Thompson
“The Garden Left Behind” made quite a splash in last year’s festival scene. Written and directed by LGBTQ+ activist Flavio Alves, the film follows Tina (Carlie Guevara), an undocumented transgender woman, as she balances the difficulties of transitioning, finds work and repairs her relationship with her grandmother. Though the drama won the audience award at its 2019 South by Southwest premiere, it met significant resistance elsewhere: Queer-centric festivals, including the Bay Area’s Frameline44, hesitated to screen the film due to its explicit, graphic handling of transphobic violence.
There’s no doubt that the film is sympathetic and, at times, deeply moving in its portrayal of trans characters. There are no unnecessary sentimentalites in “The Garden” — it makes no attempt to romanticize the realities faced by Queer and undocumented peoples, and its calls to action are anything but understated. But where the film suffers is in its superficial exploration, with writing that feels like a secondhand understanding of only the most publicized aspects of Queer identity. While a film about trans issues isn’t implicitly doomed by a cisgender writer and director, the often surface level characterization in “The Garden Left Behind” is a periodic reminder of why it’s best to let people tell their own stories.
— Olive Grimes
Directed by Mark Steven Johnson, “Love, Guaranteed” feebly stitches together the banal cliches notoriously hallmarked in the romantic comedy canon. The movie follows Susan Whitaker (Rachael Leigh Cook), a financially floundering defense attorney with strong morals, and her new client Nick Evans (Damon Wayans Jr.). After 1,000 first dates, Nick decides to sue the titular dating app “Love, Guaranteed” for breaking its contractual promise that users will find love before reaching this quota. Wayans established his comedic charisma in “New Girl,” but the stilted script of “Love, Guaranteed” squanders his skill.
Despite the hand-me-down plot, the film isn’t cozy or comforting in its cliches. Instead, the central romance reeks of internalized misogyny, as the 1,000 (yes, 1,000) other women are portrayed as one-dimensional and weird, plaguing the chivalrous and perfect Nick in his search for love.
While these typically benign tropes promise warm familiarity, “Love, Guaranteed” breaks the rom-com contract and fails to deliver anything heartfelt or fun. The only thing the film guarantees is ennui.
— Maya Thompson
Honorable mentions: “American Murder: The Family Next Door,” “Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story,” “Eternal Beauty”