I got out to theaters twice last month to see “Shazam!” and “Avengers: Endgame,” both jam-packed with super-hero action and special effects (and, incidentally, virtually indistinguishable from one another). But the most thrilling new movie I saw in April was Steven Soderbergh’s very odd “High Flying Bird”—on my iPad.
Despite possessing a vibrant sense of verve and daring, this original Netflix release from director Steven Soderbergh is almost perfectly designed to be swallowed up whole by today’s media landscape, before anyone notices. It’s ostensibly a drama about the world of professional basketball but it includes virtually no basketball; its cast is noticeably lacking in star power, even if the performances by up-and-comers André Holland and Zazie Beats are transfixing; and its plot is so obtuse as to practically defy any buzz spread by word-of-mouth. It’s almost unsurprising that when it debuted back in February, it was met with a mixed reception before promptly sinking into the deep, mealy swamp that is Netflix’s bottomless catalog.
Still, I found it riveting. “Birds” is the latest vehicle for Soderbergh’s fascination with iPhone cinematography, and the result is, if not uniformly pleasing, never less than alive, imbued with a powerful, hyper-aware detail and immediacy. In many ways the aesthetic is perfectly matched by the unapologetically ambitious script from screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney (who also wrote the Oscar-winning “Moonlight”). Both are intensely precise—deep focus imagery and dense, nuanced dialogue—yet paradoxically vague and open to interpretation, and both are beautiful in inelegant, even brutalist ways. You never quite know what you should be looking at or even listening to, but the wallop they pack together is undeniable.
Here is a full list of all seventeen movies I watched in April.