From the end of midterm season to the looming beginning of election season, new film releases were likely less on the mind this October. Luckily, film beat reporters Olive Grimes and Maya Thompson are here to help you stay up to date on all the new releases that may have fallen through the cracks.
There’s a certain indescribable magic to David Byrne’s public persona. Despite the massive commercial success of Talking Heads and an ever-growing portfolio of solo and collaborative projects, the singer-songwriter is equal parts childishly humble and eccentrically mythical.
“American Utopia” is the newest addition to that mythos. Like Talking Heads’ 1984 “Stop Making Sense,” the film is a joyous theatrical concert that is simultaneously weird, deeply intimate and — perhaps most importantly — irresistibly catchy.
Fans and newcomers alike won’t be disappointed by the track list that “American Utopia” presents. Standouts include an ethereal rendition of “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On),” a deconstructed rearrangement that comes together one musician at a time. The set list also digs deeper into Talking Heads’ catalog with the Dadaist deep cut “I Zimbra,” as well as Byrne’s recent work as a solo artist.
But a David Byrne project isn’t complete without a strong visual component, which director Spike Lee nails. The legendary director captures Byrne and company’s unpredictable choreography with masterful precision. While Byrne’s leadership onstage is most directly on display, it’s just as much Lee’s eye for sharp visuals and color that renders “American Utopia” such a euphoric sight to behold.
“The Forty-Year-Old Version” follows writer-director and lead actress Radha Blank as a burnt out, 40-something Broadway playwright who turns to hip-hop music to rediscover her creative voice. The film premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival to great acclaim, earning its debut auteur the festival’s coveted Dramatic Directing Award.
And yet, with the tonal disparities between its black and white imagery and throwback rap instrumental soundtrack, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” tries to do too much and often ends up accomplishing too little.
The first act is particularly rough, going through the motions of the “misunderstood artist” trope with a discordantly hip-hop flavored cringe-comedy. It’s successfully funny — bouncing between cornball rap freestyles and ridicule of shallow Broadway intellectuals — but often at the expense of dramatic depth.
But when “The Forty-Year-Old Version” finally breaks free of these self-imposed creative blemishes, it’s a better film for it, the type that only a writer-director-actress can pull off — that is, a solely personal meditation on professional artistry, loss and the commodification of poverty. If you can get past the silly title, there’s a great deal of joy and self-realization to be found in Blank’s debut.
The new Netflix animated musical “Over the Moon” follows a brilliant, beguiled young girl named Fei Fei, voiced by angelic newcomer Cathy Ang. Fei Fei grows up closely connected to her baker parents, often hearing the myth of Chang’e (Phillipa Soo), the moon goddess awaiting reunion with her one true love Houyi. Fei Fei adores the myth, seeing her mother (Ruthie Ann Miles) and father (John Cho) as Chang’e and Houyi: forever in love.
Tears will spring in the first 10 minutes during the playful, bittersweet song “Mooncakes,” which gently reveals that Fei Fei has lost her mother. Her father begins to move on, but the terrifying prospect of him remarrying inspires Fei Fei to journey to the moon in search of Chang’e. Fei Fei reasons that her father cannot remarry if he knows Chang’e exists, symbolically proving the existence of true and eternal love. Once the film leaves our planet, however, the visual creativity dwindles. The central action remains gorgeously colored, but the chromatic moon creatures look like Google emojis, and grinning amorphous blobs are more underwhelming than adorable.
The “dead mother” trope populates similar children’s movies, but “Over the Moon” enlists a talented cast to pluck the heartstrings in a powerful story about love, grief and growing up.
There’s a clip in the new movie “Blackpink: Light Up the Sky” where an excited fan of the K-pop girl group exclaims, “They’re the baddest b—es alive!” — and it’s a spot on summary of this documentary. “Light Up the Sky,” directed by Caroline Suh, follows the origins of Blackpink, peering behind the group’s cohesive appearance to paint intimate portraits of each member: Jisoo, Jennie, Rose and Lisa.
The documentary introduces viewers to the world of YG Entertainment, the renowned record label for Blackpink and other iconic K-pop groups. Through chapter-like segments, the camera highlights each member of Blackpink and their lives before they were a “trainee” for the YG label.
While the camera cuts between their mesmerizing dance numbers, viewers will find that the heart of “Light Up the Sky” lies in the sweet friendship uniting Jisoo, Jennie, Rose and Lisa. “Light Up the Sky” doesn’t lean too far into the traumas resulting from this intensive training and stardom, instead emphasizing the young performers’ strength to endure separation from their parents and to rise under immense pressure in a cutthroat arena.
Honorable mentions: “Black Box,” “The Wolf of Snow Hollow,” “Clouds,” “Octonauts & the Great Barrier Reef”