Is 'High Flying Bird,' Stephen Steven Soderbergh's N
YOU CAN WATCH IT ON NETFLIX RIGHT NOW

· Updated:

Soderbergh, the acclaimed director of "Ocean's Eleven," "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" and "Magic Mike" is following up last year's "Unsane," his first film shot on iPhones, with a Netflix movie about an NBA lockout, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney ("Moonlight"). Want to know if it's worth a weekend watch?​ Here's what the reviews have to say:

'High Flying Bird' Is All About An Agent's Attempt To Outwit The NBA During A Lockout

We meet sports agent Ray Burke (Andre Holland) in the glittering bar at the top of The Standard, a Manhattan hotel that looks out over the High Line. Surrounded by huge windows, Ray sits across from his client Erick (Melvin Gregg), a rookie who's signed to play for New York. Erick isn't getting paid yet, and he's not practicing with his team yet, because there's a lockout.

[NPR]

Ray must wheel and deal, wheedle and needle, playing every side at once: his client [Melvin Gregg], a sharp, sensitive star-in-the-making; the head of the players union (The Wire's Sonja Sohn), a longtime friend; his ex-assistant (Atlanta's Zazie Beetz), who's got her own angle; and the president of the local franchise that drafted Erick (coded as the Knicks, but carefully referred to as "New York"), played by a well-oiled Kyle MacLachlan. We trust, because this is a Steven Soderbergh movie, that Ray is one step ahead of everyone, including us, and that he's playing a long game the objectives of which will be satisfyingly revealed.

[Slate]


The iPhone Cinematography Lets Soderbergh Experiment In Exciting Ways While Also Serving The Movie's Story

The iPhone sands away a lot of the cinematic sheen one might get with a bigger, more robust camera, but it can also be put anywhere in a room without taking up much space. In High Flying Bird, that makes it an ideal device for listening in on conversations between agents, executives, owners, and players during a fictionalized NBA lockout.

[The Atlantic]

Credited for cinematography and film editing under the aliases Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard, Soderbergh's camera brings the backroom deals in swanky, high-rise bars to life in all their mood-lit, buttery leather seats glory, in stark contrast to the meetings in bland corporate offices, or even the sharp lighting of a community basketball court.

[Refinery29]

Lest you think this is purely a technical element of production, it adds an energy to the filmmaking of "High Flying Bird" that you can sense on-screen. You can feel the excitement that Soderbergh gets from experimenting with a new form of filmmaking.

[RogerEbert.com]


The Quality Of The Script And The Characters Make All The Business Maneuvering A Delight To Watch

McCraney's script is designed to challenge viewers' preconceived notions of how the NBA treats its players, but it does so without feeling like a TED Talk about the economy of sports. The banter between Ray, Erick, Spence, Ray's wise assistant Sam (Zazie Beetz), and the players-union lawyer Myra (Sonja Sohn) sings with intelligence and wit.

[The Atlantic]

His script zips between sports jargon and scripture, analysis and allegory. One sequence has a character draw parallels between professional sport and slavery, then another character quickly ridicule the same. We're left with Ray's mentor as our guide and castigator: "Anyone who refers to the institution of slavery in front of me, particularly in reference to basketball and its players, must say these words: 'I love God and all of his black people.'"

[The Guardian]

McCraney's dialogue is lyrical, but punctuated with enough acrimony, bitterness, and zingers to keep it from swaying into Friday Night Lights territory. This isn't about the love of the game — it's about who owns the game, and who has a right to stand where they do.

[Refinery29]

André Holland's Ray Plays The Agent's Game Like Its A Sport Deserving Of Highlights And Instant Replays

Holland's performance is expressive and precise, as he chews on McCraney's rat-a-tat dialogue and navigates treacherous conversations with the expertise of Indiana Jones making his way through booby traps.

[Slate]

Holland's portrayal of Ray is restrained but impassioned, and as would be the case in real life, there is no clear line between the action he takes in the interests of his clients and the actions he takes in the interests of himself.

[NPR]

Even Though It Echoes The 2011 Lockout, NBA Fans Will Find The Movie's Ideas Are Absolutely Relevant Today

High Flying Bird builds to a showdown and a stunt that on paper seem borderline outrageous. But anyone who's a fan of professional basketball will realize how plausible this specific labor action seems—and how differently the 2011 lockout could've gone had players managed to leverage their own images, and their online brands, against the owners who were demanding they sacrifice future salary to get back on the court. That scenario is what High Flying Bird has fun pondering, and why it's such an unusual delight to watch.

[The Atlantic]

Most modern sports movies feel a few years behind the story—purposefully nostalgic for a feel-good, motivational story. "High Flying Bird" feels like a product of the 2018-19 NBA season, which may not have a lockout but is dealing with the same issues. I wish I could be in the room when some of the young stars of the game like Anthony Davis or Joel Embiid watch this movie. Actually, I wish even more I could be in the room when the owners of their teams watch it.

[RogerEbert.com]

The Movie Doesn't Skim Over The Tension In The NBA Between White Owners And Black Players

A labor dispute that's led to a long players' lockout sets the stage for this drama about — what else? — money and power. The fact that the battle basically boils down to a control issue between rich white team owners and mostly black athletes largely goes unspoken but is the elephant in the room; if and how that dynamic might be changed lies at the core of this fleet tale in which nearly everyone is upset or annoyed nearly all the time.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

McCraney and Soderbergh are not pretending that exploitation of black athletes has just been discovered or that they are delivering brand new insight or brand new connections between professional sports and slavery; they are applying it to a new story in a new way. Bill Duke's role as an old-timer who operates a basketball camp, and who has strong feelings about athletes and slavery metaphors, provides another angle of inquiry for this part of the story.

[NPR]

In its portrayal of black athletes and their families navigating a system that both depends on them and abases them, High Flying Bird is a low-key act of subversion that just happens also to be a sleek, entertaining drama. (Let us praise, among its other pleasures, its perfect 90-minute running time.)

[Slate]

It's Top-Tier Soderbergh, Not A Netflix Curiosity

In picking at a system until it's threaded, High Flying Bird is a classic Soderbergh construct. Throughout his career – from Sex, Lies and Videotape to Erin Brockovich to Che to Magic Mike – he's revelled in telling stories of the individual chipping away at the status quo.

[The Guardian]

High Flying Bird has the shaggy energy of a palette cleanser, but it's too heady, too invested in big issues, to be called a minor work.

[The A.V. Club]

And it leaves you with a lot to think about, in addition to race, class and basketball: what it means to love your work, and why it matters to be paid for it; how utopian visions and tactical calculations work together to create the possibility of change; why we take fun so seriously.

[The New York Times]

TL;DR

"High Flying Bird" swoops and cuts through the contradictions of modern culture with the fleet momentum of a power forward destroying a flat-footed defense on his way to the hoop.

[The New York Times]

Watch The Trailer

 

<p>Mathew Olson is an Associate Editor at Digg.</p>

Is The Seth Rogen Comedy 'An American Pickle' Any Good? Here's What The Reviews Say
IN A REAL PICKLE HERE

Digg · Updated:

The movie, which streams on HBO Max on August 6, has an enticing premise: a man gets preserved in a jar in the early 20th century and wakes up 100 years later in contemporary Brooklyn. But does the movie itself live up to its zany plot? Here's what the reviews say.


Seth Rogen Plays Two Men, Herschel Greenbaum, A Man Who Wakes Up After 100 Years In A Pickle Vat, And Greenbaum's Great-Grandson, Ben

An Eastern European labourer named Herschel (Seth Rogen) arrives in America, only to be pickled for 100 years in a factory accident. He awakes in 2020, and moves in with his only surviving relative: great-grandson Ben (also Rogen). Things are going swimmingly — until Herschel wrecks Ben's business, leading to a vengeful game of oneupmanship.

[Empire]

While Hershel is low-key confounded by these modern times (what with interracial dating, women's rights, and the high cost of produce), he is most perplexed by his descendant's priorities. Ben doesn't observe Jewish religious traditions and hasn't visited the family graves in years. He has no wife, no children, and no career that Herschel can comprehend. So tensions rise. In no time at all, the pair declare each other enemies. Herschel strikes out on his own with a pickle cart with wares pulled freegan-style from dumpster diving. Meanwhile, Ben stews over how to ruin his eccentric great-grandfather.

[IGN]


The Movie Probes Into Issues Of Jewish Immigration Identity — Though Perhaps Not Deeply Enough

In its best moments, An American Pickle knows how to thread the needle between fish-out-of-water comedy and retaining a thoughtful look at Jewish ancestry in America, but those moments are few and far between […] Every time the movie has a chance to go deeper, whether it's with immigration or legacy or American comfort or Judaism, An American Pickle skims the surface and moves on.

[Collider]

Made in the midst of a resurgence in blatant anti-Semitism across the US, it's a strange choice for "An American Pickle" to reveal that Herschel's greatest backlash comes from...violent Christians? The movie sidesteps the most alarming aspect of Jewish persecution — its resurgence in public over the last four years — and never even gives Herschel a chance to learn about the Holocaust.

[IndieWire]


As A Comedy, It Sometimes Falls Flat In Delivering Laughs

There are some scattered laughs but it's not particularly funny, and "American Pickle" […] is generally all over the place, aiming to be an abstract comedy about family and religion but losing its way trying to also poke fun at modern culture.

[USA Today]

 [T]he film fails to build its laughs into substantial comic momentum, or even construct many substantial scenes. (Tellingly, one of its funniest is a mid-credits bonus.) As it progresses, the material feels more and more like a series of slightly amusing paragraphs, with sentimentality wedged uncomfortably between flights of satirical whimsy.

[The AV Club]

There are laughs along the way with Herschel and Ben's mirror-image intergenerational, culture-clash roommate bromance. But, inevitably, as with so much high-concept comedy, the real laughs, the ones built on detachment, self-aware flippancy and cynicism, come at the beginning, with the establishment of the premise.

[The Guardian]


The Story's Emotional Beats, However, Manage To Shine Through

 Despite the acrimoniousness of their split, you root for their inevitable reconciliation, which closes the movie on a warm note […] "An American Pickle" is neither the most substantial nor the most sophisticated comedy, but its soulful sweetness outweighs its flaws.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

It may not always succeed as a comedy but as a drama, this is the real dill. Part time-travelling family drama, part idiosyncratic immigrant-adventure comedy, "An American Pickle"'s gags underwhelm, but its emotion and originality will surprise you.

[Empire]

[T]he thread of leaning on family to process grief is touching, and Rogen manages to make Herschel and Ben's longing to connect feel real. The movie is frequently funny, sometimes sweet, and never particularly deep, but it does have a uniquely odd relationship to time that gives it a peculiar extra layer. Call it the proprietary brine.

[Wired]


And Rogen's Charisma Helps To Keep The Audience Entertained, Even When The Rest Of The Movie Falters

[I]t's enjoyable enough to watch the actor single-handedly rescue the high concept surrounding him.

[IndieWire]

Rogen is an always likable actor whose reputation was built largely on playing crude, sophomoric stoners. But there's an inherent sweetness in his screen persona that's been there since the very beginning on "Freaks and Geeks," notably in the affecting story arc in which his befuddled character, Ken Miller, struggled with the revelation of his tuba-playing girlfriend Amy's intersex birth origins. It's a variation on Ken — the tender, passionate bear of a guy occasionally stymied by his blind spots — that steers "An American Pickle" through its narrative rough patches.

[The Hollywood Reporter]


TL; DR

Nothing in "American Pickle" can match the silly storybook fantasy of its opening moments, but they do a good job of getting us hooked. 

[IndieWire]


Watch The Trailer Here


Is The Google Pixel 4A Worth It? Here's What The Reviews Say
NOT PHONING IT IN

Digg · Updated:

The Pixel 4A, which will be released on August 20, is incredibly affordable at $349, but can it compete with other smartphones? Here's what the reviews say.


The Best Feature Of The Phone Is The Camera

[W]hen it comes to photos, the Pixel 4A goes toe-to-toe with the iPhone 11 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 — and often wins.

[The Verge]

There is no distinguishable difference between the $350 Pixel 4a's and the Pixel 4's camera, a phone that starts at $800. That's incredible, and if you like your photos to look good, it's a major reason why the Pixel 4a should be at the very, very top of your list. 

[Business Insider]


Design-Wise, It's Not The Flashiest Phone

The Pixel has always been a phone that felt a lot nicer than it looked — it's not the most stylish. The Pixel 4a's design is even more basic than ever, though. It comes in Just Black and... that's it. There are no other sizes available, either. Keeping to one size and color was part of Google's strategy to reduce production costs. 

[Engadget]

The word I use most often to describe Pixel hardware is "unassuming." It's basic: no frills, no fanciness, just an easy-to-hold phone without any embellishments. It's a little boring, but at least it isn't tacky.

[The Verge]


But Helpful Software Features Like Live Captioning Might Be Drawing Points For Users

Google's software tends to make up for its basic hardware, and as usual, the company has some helpful tools that make the Pixel experience better than any other Android phone. Most of these have already been announced, like its personal safety and car crash detection feature, Google Docs integration for the Recorder app, as well as adaptive battery management. With the Pixel 4a, though, Google is bringing its Live Caption feature to calls.

[Engadget]

I like Google's bonus software features that it includes on Pixel phones. The voice recorder app is able to transcribe text, for example, and accurately transcribed about 90% of my interview with Google during a Pixel 4a briefing. It just saves me a ton of time that I'd otherwise spend trying to jot everything down. Other unique software features include crash detection, which can automatically call 911 if you get in a car accident.

[CNBC]


The Performance Of The Phone Is Generally Fine, Though It Can Be Slow Sometimes

The Pixel 4a has a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. It's fine and fast enough to keep the phone running smoothly. There are a few hiccups at times, though. I noticed it would stutter while scrolling through long lists, like in Twitter, but that problem generally resolved itself after a few days. Google was aware of this, too, and it may just be that it takes some time for things to store inside the phone's memory.

[CNBC]

Anecdotally, the phone works quickly with most tasks. Unlocking the screen with my fingerprint, launching Assistant and opening apps went off without a hitch. But the Pixel 4A isn't the smoothest phone I handled. After I downloaded Call of Duty and PUBG, I had to restart the phone because both apps stalled while loading.

[CNET]


Some Of The Phone's Drawbacks Are Its Lack Of Wireless Charging And Waterproofness

Google left out one big feature that does matter: water resistance. That would save a phone that was accidentally dunked in a toilet or left out in a storm. So it was disappointing not to have it because durability was another feature that people wanted most in their smartphones.

[The New York Times]

This phone doesn't have some of the premium flourishes, like wireless charging, water resistance, a triple-lens camera, or 5G connectivity. But, it gets the core features so right that those extra flourishes seem irrelevant. 

[Business Insider]


Most Importantly Though, The Phone Is A Great Bargain With Its Cheap Price

The Pixel 4A is about $50 cheaper than its closest competitors and has 128GB of storage, instead of 64GB like years past, so it really is a solid value. And these days, any amount of money that can be saved is crucial.

[CNET]

The Pixel 4A is cheaper than high-end devices largely because it lacks the frills in fancy phones, like wireless charging and a face scanner. But for what you pay, it's a great value. Its camera quality and bright screen are on a par with many of the best smartphones out there.

[The New York Times]


TL; DR

The Pixel 4A is cheap and basic, but most cheap phones don't get the basics right. The Pixel 4A does. And just to remind you: it does so for $349.

[The Verge]


You can pre-order the Pixel 4A at Google Store and BestBuy. And if you're interested in buying a Pixel 4, you can buy one here.


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