Black troops accounted for 32% of the American military force in Vietnam, but only 11% of the country’s population at the time. Spike Lee has dedicated his career to identifying socio-political issues, venerating and participating in film history, and restoring Black history. In Da 5 Bloods, Lee sets his sights on the Black soldier’s rightful place in the war film genre. Generations of Hollywood whitewashing and historical erasure have minimized Black military history. Lee’s uneven, affecting film, which debuted on Netflix in June, engages Donald Trump and war’s long-term impact on its participants.
Sony’s body-swapping adventure returned in 2019 for another nostalgic romp through the untamed frontier. Jumanji: The Next Level, the second Jumanji movie in as many years and the fourth since 1995, added Awkwafina, Danny DeVito, and Danny Glover, but the rest of the nostalgic franchise remains frozen in stasis.
2019’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the nineteenth film from Richard Linklater, and one of the few women-led films in the writer-director’s catalog. Where’d You Go, Bernadette, adapted from a 2012 novel of the same name by Maria Semple, opts to change the novel’s narrative structure. The movie’s fresh framework kills the book’s central mystery and most of the resulting conflict. Not quite deep enough to serve as a character study, Where’d You Go must settle for an affable tale about an architect’s midlife crisis.
Halfway through 2015’s My Hindu Friend, the last film by Brazilian writer-director Héctor Babenco, its main character surmises, “Don't you think it's supremely insignificant in the history of humanity that you ran eight seconds faster than you did 20 years ago? We're never going to have another Fellini film, think of that. That's what matters.” Babenco (Kiss of the Spider Woman and Pixote) can’t match 8½, but his precipitously edited, wistful final film gives way to sporadic beauty.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is the third film based on a 1981 children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. Following Jumanji (1995) and the immediately forgettable Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005), Welcome to the Jungle pays homage to the Robin Williams-led classic while blazing its own trail.
Emma. is the fourth film adaptation of Emma, author Jane Austen’s final published work before her death. Emma. follows Aisha, a 2010 Bollywood adaptation, Emma, a 1996 period piece starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Alan Cumming, and 1995’s Clueless, an Alicia Silverstone-led classic set in modern-day California. Austen’s beloved coming-of-age romance was perfected in Clueless, its first adaptation, but like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, the novel is rife for an update every decade. Director Autumn de Wilde’s rendition allows Austen’s precise satire to speak for itself.
Onward, an ode to the nerdy teenager, is the latest grown-up kids movie from co-writer and director Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) and Pixar. The animation giant recently celebrated the nuclear family in Coco, Incredibles 2, and Inside Out. In Onward, the central Lightfoot family is as uniquely shaped as the centaurs that inhabit their fantastical world. By journey’s end, it’s clear that unconventional isn’t lesser. Grab a d20, your favorite cheese-dusted salty snack, and a box of tissues.
Gentle, even brushstrokes grace every frame of writer-director Céline Sciamma’s balletic Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The film’s late 18th-century setting shrouds Portrait’s central couple in secrecy. Secluded sea caves and daily walks replace traditional courtship for its passionate lovers. Sciamma’s love story is set at a comfortable simmer without ever boiling over.
Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey is the latest release in a series of amusing but empty comic book adaptations from the DC Extended Universe. The film, formerly known as Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), relies on the charisma of its title character to make good on its promise of light-hearted, homicidal fun. There’s only so much star Margot Robbie can do.
The third, and supposedly final, entry in the How to Train Your Dragon series, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World was released in February 2019. Although series writer-director Dean DeBlois returned for the final third of the trilogy, the finale lacks the heart and charm of its predecessors. Apparently, cat-like dragons and their cute Viking owners are a gimmick that only has the staying power of two movies.