Film Forum

Streaming Surprises, Volume 21

Our “Streaming Surprises” series calls attention to good movies new and old that our board members are watching. Titles are available from various streaming services.

“High Flying Bird” (2019)

It’s 2019 and Steven Soderbergh has directed a film with a screenplay by “Moonlight” writer Tarell Alvin McCraney about the NBA, shot exclusively on an iPhone. I was ready for it. The story follows an agent, Ray Burke, played by André Holland (“Moonlight”) who is completely depending on his star client, Erick Scott, played by Melvin Gregg, but first must get him on the court when the league lockout comes to an end. Scott is a rookie, sure to make Burke some money when he’s finally able to play. But first, Burke has to play the game on top of the game, make plenty of smooth moves, and fake a few people out in order to get Scott to where he should be. This film is a behind the scenes drama with some humor and an important philosophy on the rights of players. The players should own their image. They should be making the most profit from their talent. It’s all in the book that has guided Burke and inspired McCraney’s script. It’s not the first time it’s been done, but the film is impressively shot, considering it’s all coming from an iPhone. Watching these great performances from Holland, Gregg, Bill Duke, and Zazie Beetz (“Atlanta”), plus a few classic Soderbergh twists, you just may forget all about the iPhone.
Submitted by Justus Bier-Stanberry. Available on Netflix.

“Three Identical Strangers” (2018)

The movie poster for this documentary about identical triplets separated at birth reads: “The most amazing, incredible, remarkable true story ever told.” It certainly does lend credence to the saying that fact is sometimes greater than fiction. The film documents a set of triplets born in 1961 and adopted as 6-month-old infants by three different families. The Jewish American boys are accidentally (and joyously) reunited. Their family’s reactions are varied, and as we learn more about each boy’s history, we are better able to understand that while they share astounding similarities, they grew up to become uniquely different young men. The boys became media darlings. They appeared on countless talk shows and even scored an appearance in the Madonna film “Desperately Seeking Susan.” While the media frenzy initially proved exciting, as time went on, it became clear a darker truth lurked beneath this seemingly miraculous story. We are presented with the disturbing fact that the boys were deliberately separated. Louise Wise Services in New York City specialized in Jewish adoptions. Prominent psychiatrist Peter Neubauer (considered the father of child psychiatry) worked with the agency in conjunction with his study of nature versus nurture. Presented with this disturbing information, the triplets, who remembered the myriad tests and questionnaires they were subjected to throughout their formative years, were angry. “Three Identical Strangers” is a fascinating and disturbing story, and as long as you can look past the stilted re-enactment scenes, it will prove to be an absorbing 90 minutes.
Submitted by Cindy Peters Duzi. Available on Amazon Prime.

“Wings of Desire” (1987)

“Wings of Desire” has a simple premise: A lonely angel, Damiel, falls in love and decides to be human. What makes this Wim Wenders picture masterful is not a complex, unpredictable plot. Rather, its impact comes from its beautiful, philosophical character study and contextual significance. Set in 1980s Berlin, the film is saturated by its connection to the East/West Berlin divide though little mention is made of it. The only time history is explicitly brought up it is with a gentle old man quietly searching for a city that has been lost to war. The distance we see from the historical connection directly relates to the distance between the angels and humanity. Perhaps it only looked so removed because we are seeing it from the perspective of Damiel, who floats above humanity, listening and influencing but completely separated. Only by choosing to actively engage with the world does its splendor and cruelties come to light. It is especially important in a digital age to re-engage and bridge that distance, beyond just seeing a shell people (or hearing their thoughts – the social media equivalent today) and truly engaging with them. I would also recommend this film to see one of the most astonishing performances by Bruno Ganz, who just passed away Feb. 15, and also to prep you for the new 4K restoration to be released by Janus Films and the Criterion Collection.
Submitted by Cassandra R. McGuire. Available on Kanopy.

Our 2019-20 season: Sept. 13; Oct. 11; Nov. 8-10 (Fresno Film Festival); Jan. 10; Feb. 7-8 (Oscar shorts); March 13; April 10; May 8.