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2018: The Year in Reviews (Part I)

This has been a weird year so far. January and February were two of the strangest months of my life, and as such, I didn’t even start watching movies until late February. The first movie from 2018 I saw was Black Panther… and that was in its second weekend. I didn’t get going on everything else until after the Oscars. So everything you’re about to see is stuff that was all watched in the last eight weeks.

Last year at this time, I’d watched 96 movies. And that number started (as it usually does) around the end of January. I was five weeks behind this year. I originally put that in here to explain to you why the total this year is way lower than it was last year. But no. I hit 100 movies yesterday. Go figure.

Anyway, here’s the first batch of films I’ve seen so far from this year. We’ll check back after August for the next batch.

6 Balloons — * * * (3 stars)

Netflix movie with Abbi Jacobson and Dave Franco. He’s a heroin addict and she’s his sister, and the whole film takes place over a day as she finds out he’s relapsed and tries to get him help. It’s short (75 min) and to the point and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. It’s not the best movie ever, but it’s fine for what it is. If they tried to drag this out an extra 25 minutes, then I might have gone lower on the rating. But it works for what they do with it.

10×10 — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

This movie lost me within 25 minutes, when the woman has a chance to escape and runs around the house screaming for help rather than killing the guy first and then going from there. She had multiple chances to kill him and didn’t take them, and right there, I lost all respect for this movie. When the character is too stupid to survive, I don’t care what happens. If ever you have the chance to watch this, go watch William Wyler’s The Collector or Prisoners instead. You’ll get way more out of it.

12 Strong — * * * (3 stars)

These kinds of movies always have an unwavering ability to be absolutely okay. Wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen, probably I’ll never see it again. But in the two hours and ten minutes (why so long, exactly?) I watched it… totally fine. Good production value, actors I like, and it’s not overly “hoo rah military.” Though I do question why we made a movie about like, the one battle we won in Afghanistan amongst years of futility, but sure. This was that movie they released here because 13 Hours did okay and they were like, “Military… numbers in the title… sure.” We were all going in thinking, “It’s January, and this looks like shiiit.” And then we all came out and were like, “This was just… okay?” I’m not sure why this wasn’t the expected result. Do you guys think Michael Shannon takes just any job?

Oh, can we also talk about — this is completely unrelated to 12 Strong, but I have no place else to say this, so it’s going here — Michael Shannon has become the new Christopher Walken. Even weirder… I think there may have been a definitive version of torch-handing too. I think we can specifically point to when this happened. First off, do you know Christopher Walken and Michael Shannon actually did a movie together? It was Kangaroo Jack, in 2003. Also, 2003 is really the last year where Christopher Walken was really at “full” Walken. After that he started petering out. You had that five year period where he was transitioning out of the Walken we know. And during that five year period? Michael Shannon was ramping up. And where did we end up at the end of that five year period? 2008. Michael Shannon was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Revolutionary Road. And you know what they did that specific year at the Oscars? They had five previous winners in the categories announce the five nominees. And who announced Shannon? That’s right, Christopher Walken. And since then? Really only one noteworthy Walken performance. Also since then, all Shannon. Everything you remember him from was done since then. So… not saying, but just sayin’.

The 15:17 to Paris — * * * (3 stars)

I have no qualms about saying this: this is the worst movie Clint Eastwood has ever made. And I’m including Jersey Boys in that. Because at least Jersey Boys had interesting source material. And didn’t fucking cast Frankie Valli in the movie. The dudes who did the thing on the train… cool. But don’t make them have to act. They also cast the dude on the train who got stabbed in the neck as himself. So he head to recreate himself laying on the floor, bleeding out. Why would you make someone have to relive that? This movie lost me in the first four minutes, when Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer show up for no real earthly reason except stunt casting as the mothers of two of the kids (when they’re young). And their teacher tells them (movies always overstate the amount of times teachers and parents interact. Unless it’s parent/teacher, and unless the kid did something real fucked up… it don’t happen in public school) that the kids don’t pay attention and are always staring out the window. And are basically suggesting that maybe they have ADD. Which, whatever. The root of the matter is the kids aren’t good at school and don’t pay attention and get in trouble instead. But Judy Greer just sort of stands up and goes, “Oh yeah? Well my God is better than your statistics!” Or something stupid like that. And I almost threw up. Why don’t you just wave the Middle America flag while you’re at it? (The Middle America flag is the American flag, except it thinks it’s better than yours.) Eastwood has a military trilogy going. American Sniper, Sully, this. And it’s kind of a downhill, diminishing returns trajectory, isn’t it? Less substance, more flag waving. And pretty much all around, people who really don’t need a movie. But Sniper was actually quite good, and Sully I liked. But this… this is just hollow. And has nothing of value and feels to me like the equivalent of those faith-based movies, where it’s only designed to appeal to its audience, who are gonna go apeshit for it. It felt dirty to me. And while Eastwood (even at 87) can still make a movie decent… this is just wrong on so many levels. Most people thought that weird chair bit he did a few years ago was the sign that he’d lost it. This is my chair bit. I’m embarrassed that this had to happen.

Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Honestly I only saw it because it had Martin Landau and Paul Sorvino and it came in the third of the year where there’s not an abundance of big stuff to watch. Glad I saw it. Wasn’t good and I’ll never need to see or really speak of it again. But it kept them working, and that’s nice.

Adventures in Public School — * * * (3 stars)

This is a cute movie. A kid who’s been home schooled all his life by his suffocating mother goes to take his high school equivalency exam, and then sees a beautiful girl and decides to throw the test so he has to go to public school. So the film is, as you can guess, about him meeting people for the first time and getting friends and finding romance, all that good stuff. The main kid is really good and the film is really sweet.

Acrimony — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I guess I’m a guy who watches Tyler Perry movies now. Maybe one day I’ll find one I don’t think is bad? But, as he’s already told us… he can do bad all by himself.

Acts of Violence — * * * (3 stars)

Bruce Willis paycheck movie! The best is that Mike Epps is also in this and he also took a paycheck. They both worked like three days each, clearly. And there’s even a scene where one of them kills the other and it’s so obvious neither was on set at the same time. I love seeing shit like that in these movies. Other than that… ehh. Watchable VOD movie. This is that “3am cable movie” I constantly bring up. You watch it because it’s on and you’re sitting there in your underwear. It’s fine. What more do you want? No one’s ever gonna mistake this for a good movie. I mean, it’s about sex traffickers who get annoyed at a woman for talking shit to them at a bachelorette party so they capture her to sell her off. And then her husband and his two brothers go find her. It’s fucking nonsense. But it’s watchable. If you’re putting this on, that’s all you need.

Amateur — * * * (3 stars)

It feels like they’re starting to put out one of these a year. Wolves was last year’s one, which was about a young basketball player and also sort of about his gambling-addicted father who was holding him back. This is about an eighth-grader joining a high school team, and also about corruption… and learning disabilities? It’s a weird hodgepodge of topics, never really going too deep into any of them to gain any traction. This could have been an interesting story had they picked a lane. The kid has a learning disability, his dad has brain trauma from his football days, there’s the complete and utter corruption within youth basketball. There’s a lot of stuff here. On the surface, you can enjoy any one of a number of things about this movie. Too bad there’s just not that much beneath it. And the turn it takes at the end of act two is just nuts. But overall, it’s fine.

Andre the Giant — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Solid documentary about one of the most famous figures of the past 50 years. Everyone knows Andre the Giant. And while I wish they’d gone more into some of the stuff, it’s still a nice tribute to one of the most unique individuals the world has ever seen.

Annihilation — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is just Gay Stalker, isn’t it? That’s what I said before I watched it. And… I’m kinda not wrong? It’s a very weird movie. The hype was big for this, just because it’s Alex Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina. And then some people I know saw it and couldn’t stop raving about it. But then it came out… and people were like, “Not that good.” And then other people I know saw it and reactions were all over the board. I just wanted it to be decent. And it kinda was. Can’t say I loved it, or that the 3.5 I’m giving it will stick. But I was engaged. The cast is really solid. My biggest problem was the effects. They looked… bad. And that’s before the AOL gimp showed up in the third act. Or that weird bear that makes rape noises. I honestly don’t know what the hell this movie was trying to be, and I can’t pretend like I felt it actually had any interesting thoughts. Maybe the book went somewhere interesting (and I know that the book doesn’t end the way this movie does. Haven’t looked it up, but I know it doesn’t), but this felt like it did weird things for the sake of seeming like it had ideas. Personally, all I took out of it and the ending was: this feels like a metaphor for what happens to new ideas in Hollywood. I consider this a major disappointment for 2018.

Avengers: Infinity War — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is still the first weekend of release, so reactions to this are gonna be strong. So I’ll do what I always do — just talk about what I saw. I was not excited for this, and was even actively dreading it, because I felt like there was almost no way Marvel was gonna pull this off without having to resort to a cop out scenario, where nothing that was done was gonna last in any significant way. I kept saying that the only thing I’d truly love was if they did this first movie, killed a bunch of people randomly and out of nowhere, and then at the end, reversed the whole thing and then went back and did the entire thing over again, but with different results. And now, having seen it, they almost went there, but the way in which they did it has left us in basically another cop out scenario. Without getting too into specifics… none of what they did here is gonna last. Nothing overly significant, anyway. It’s a big cheat, which is what this universe felt like it was building toward all along. So while I don’t feel cheated because I expected them to do this, I’m shocked all the people who give a shit about this stuff don’t feel incredibly cheated. That all aside… the movie was too much. Too many characters, too little to do. The story was too muddled. I know people are giving them credit for almost pulling off coherence with the amount of characters they had, but my response is — less characters. Two of your characters just weren’t there! Why did I need twenty minutes of the Olsen sister and Vision when I don’t buy the romance, don’t care about their characters, and it slows down the movie to a crawl? Also, the fact that the black guy died first… were they openly aware of that, or was that just a fitting coincidence? The whole thing was just too all over the place to me. Parts that I enjoyed were parts that most other people didn’t. And while I’ll admit, on paper, that ending is pretty great (and I don’t mean all of it, I just mean the broad strokes of what happened and the actual final scene before the credits), it doesn’t strike the emotional resonance it should because I don’t care enough about the characters for it to mean anything. There was only one ‘death’ in the movie that felt like it did hit any sort of ‘means something’, and that’s because the actor sold it well and the relationship between that actor and the person they were with at the time is pretty well-established. That said, there was a death earlier on that should mean way more, considering the two people involved and their history in all the movies, and that was just an afterthought when it happened. So I don’t know. I don’t think they’ve done anywhere near storytelling that means something over this universe, and them trying to make me care when they start killing people feels fake because they didn’t really make the ones that died mean anything to me, both in the moment and beforehand, and I know that none of it will last. So what’s the point? That’s the question I’ve been asking for these films, and they’re not really showing me that there is one. I’m not salivating over this movie because all the pieces are in the sandbox together. This just looks like a giant orgy of too much, the way Civil War did.

Backstabbing for Beginners — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I only saw this because A24 picked it up, and I’ve got this weird streak going where I’ve seen all but like, two movies they’ve put out in their entire existence. So I felt like keeping that going. Plus, Ben Kingsley. Though, just by looking at this, you know it’s gonna be utterly generic thriller stuff, with politics on top of it all, and that’s exactly what it is.

Beast of Burden — * * * (3 stars)

Harry Potter and the Drug Cargo. This is Locke, but in a plane. Daniel Radcliffe is flying a plane full of drugs to a destination, and he keeps taking phone calls from his boss, his wife, some other guy… it’s all taking place inside the plane. It doesn’t have the balls to go full Locke (or even Wheelman from last year, which was quite solid) and does some cutting outside the plane, but simply because they tried to set 90% of the movie inside the plane, I’m down for it. Nowhere near as good as those other ones, but you’ll be surprised at how watchable this is. Absolutely zero tricks up its sleeve, but you could do way worse for a random 90-minute watch.

Benji — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Blumhouse made this. I saw that this was happening earlier in the year and didn’t put it on the Release Calendar because I thought there was no way it was gonna be legit. But here we are. I had to watch it out of morbid curiosity. This was like someone deliberately tried to make one of those family movies that worked in the 90s. All the plot beats are there, down to a dog saving children from kidnappers. This absolutely does not work today and the production values are like, a step above student film. But I’m kinda okay with it existing? It’s a fascinating artifact, if nothing else. Not that anyone’s gonna uncover this one. But hey, it’s there.

Black Panther — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Ah, yes, the first movie of 2018 that if you didn’t like it, you were a piece of shit. Last year, if you didn’t like Wonder Woman, you were a misogynist, and here, if you don’t like this, you’re a racist. I, being an insane person, cast myself right on the battle lines of these things, because I don’t mind saying what I objectively see as the truth. The important thing to note here — a movie can be hugely important without being great. Critiquing a film’s quality and/or stating how much you enjoyed it as a movie does not mean you are discounting its importance within the culture. Cool. Because I’m noticing people being hesitant to say anything negative about this movie because they feel like they’re gonna be stoned if they do. Same went for Wonder Woman. Though there, I was more on its side (even though I think the film is greater than the sum of its parts. That story wasn’t more than just okay). Here… it’s just a Marvel movie. Same as the rest. It’s entertaining. It has its moments. I think, for me, it comes down to a fundamental outlook on life. I don’t care what color my characters are, as long as I give a shit about them and their story. So everyone going nuts about this being a black superhero — if Iron Man were black I wouldn’t care as long as it was Tony Stark being a badass. (I’m more talking the first movie. They kinda diluted that character over the past decade.) Make Thor a woman. Make Captain America Korean. I don’t give a shit. To me, T’Challa isn’t that interesting a character. They make it work, but they also cut him out of the movie for 15 minutes and you don’t really care because the supporting cast is more interesting than he is. Lupita Nyong’o… I’ll watch anything she does, so her character was cool. Letitia Wright as the sister was great. Michael B. Jordan… he felt out of place for me, but the idea of the character held me through. I appreciated that they kept this movie contained within its universe (they also definitely tried to pull an Iron Man with that ending), and didn’t try to universe build. The action never felt particularly great, and the climax was just not that interesting. That train fight I did not care for and that giant brawl had its moments, but those are the kind of moments any movie worth its salt can manipulate you into cheering for. As a movie, I didn’t see anything special about it past the usual Marvel stuff. Culturally, I’m glad this movie was a huge success. It just overtook Titanic a few weeks ago. Box office means nothing anymore, since we’re basically in the steroid era for movies, but good. If that can get studios to get over whatever the fuck they think about the financial viability of these movies, great. Though I do also notice no one seems to care that Asians are waaay more underrepresented in films than any other group (save Native Americans). But back to this movie. It’s fine. Nothing overly special about it for me. I don’t even really need to see it again. Positives: contained, Shakespearean arc attempted, the scenes of them in Oakland were cool as were the scenes on the Wakandan streets. Negatives: bad big city CGI (hate that moment of them flying into what is so obviously a fake city. I had the same problem with Asgard all these years), main character who might run out of story arcs really quickly, not-so-great battle scenes (which shows you, I think, that Ryan Coogler wanted to make a drama and got stuck adding action beats to it). In the overall Marvel list, I still have Iron Man 1, Guardians 1 and the first two Captain Americas at the top. Spider-Man is just below that, probably with Ragnarok. This is in that next tier of just, pretty solid movies. Love it as much as you want. Outside of its undeniably cultural importance, I don’t see it as anything more than a fun movie. (And dear god, the parade of articles about whether it should be nominated for Oscars is something I am not looking forward to.) You guys can waste all your time jumping on the bandwagon for this. I’m gonna go back to championing the smaller movies that no one knows about and try to get more eyeballs on them.

Blame — * * * (3 stars)

It’s The Scarlet Letter set in a high school. Only the Abigail character is kind of the victim? Mostly what I appreciated about it is that the movie was written, directed, produced by a 23-year-old who also stars in the movie. And however you feel about the movie and its execution, that’s really impressive. It means well, and there’s some good in there. Overall it’s a mixed bag of a film whose delights come from an external source. It’s something I would show aspiring filmmakers to show them that they should go for it if they have something they really wanna do. That’s bigger than anything the film has to offer, and is more than most movies have to offer.

Blockers — * * * (3 stars)

Better than I expected. A lot of that has to do with the leads. The girls are all really good, and the parents are all game. I like that it has a different point of view than most teenage sex comedies. It’s rare that I love a straight up comedy nowadays, just because comedy is so different now and I’m not a huge fan of some of what they do (like, the vomiting scene. This movie didn’t need that. But apparently in 2018 you do). But it’s also a good sign when a comedy actually makes me physically laugh, rather than smile and go, “Oh, that’s funny.” And this one made me physically laugh more than once. So that’s good. And there were some really sweet moments in it as well. I like having a comedy that I can give a solid thumbs up to.

Braven — * * * (3 stars)

This movie has an easy sell: Jason Momoa is a lumberjack and murdering people with a hatchet. This would have been a B-movie noir sixty years ago. Now, it’s a straight to VOD action movie. But still, it has its delights. Very simple story — he’s a regular dude with a family who stumbles upon some money in his cabin and some bad men who are coming for it. And it’s a stand off. That’s it. That’s the story. I prefer to imagine how this would have been made in 1957 and not now, but still, it’s fun. It’s that Netflix watch you throw on and enjoy for what it is. I champion these kinds of movies every year. You know what it is.

Candy Jar — * * * (3 stars)

Fun little movie. Two high school debate champions who disagree on everything end up falling for each other. This is the exact set up of a 30s and 40s romantic comedy, and I am all for it. Thumbs up.

The Clapper — * * * (3 stars)

This is a charming little movie. Directed by Dito Montiel who did A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. It doesn’t aspire to be anything more than it is, and for what it is, it works. Ed Helms is a guy in all those infomercials who asks questions to tee up the salesman. And one day people notice he’s in a bunch of them and he becomes an internet sensation. Meanwhile, he just wants to be left alone, doing his thing. And he’s got this sweet little romance going on with Amanda Seyfried, a gas station attendant. It’s not gonna change your life, but it’s sweet. Also fun for people who live in LA, because they basically shoot it entirely around Hollywood and it makes you go, “I know that corner.” Which has now become an added bonus for me.

The Cloverfield Paradox — * * * (3 stars)

This is intellectually fascinating to me. They shot this over a year ago and called it God Particle. And, as is the case now, they retrofitted it into being a Cloverfield movie. To me, that was the detriment of 10 Cloverfield Lane. This one… not sure they had anything particularly interesting to begin with, but whatever. They shoot it, they reveal end of last year that it’s a Cloverfield movie and are gonna release it in April. Then, suddenly, Paramount just drops the movie. They sell it to Netflix and just get rid of it. And then Netflix goes, “Hey guys, remember that sneak peak we were gonna offer you during the Super Bowl? Turns out, we’re gonna give you the WHOLE MOVIE right after it’s over!” Which, I’ll admit, is a good way to get eyeballs to the movie. But shit, man. You have a studio who goes, “This didn’t work,” gets rid of it, and Netflix takes it because all they need are clicks, which they manufacture. And now what are we left with? A movie that no one particularly likes, with really cools actors in it, that doesn’t work and is now a Cloverfield movie. Great job, guys. Remember Life, last year? That was bootleg Alien and was fine. This feels like bootleg that. Nothing particularly works or lands, and all the stuff feels rehashed and then it’s a Cloverfield movie, which only makes me think less of it, because I hate the whole idea of Cloverfield. Maybe we should just stop now and make movies on their own?

Come Sunday — * * * (3 stars)

Netflix movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as a preacher who starts preaching that there is no hell. It’s a religion movie. So I didn’t really care. It held my attention, but I didn’t care at all. They’re both using the vagaries of scripture to give their interpretation. And he’s just like, “I believe this.” And everyone else is like, “Fuck you! That’s not what tradition says!” So I not only don’t care on both fronts, I think the people latching onto tradition because that’s what religion has told them doubly pissed me off. So this isn’t a movie for me, and I’m not gonna be one to recommend it.

The Commuter — * * * (3 stars)

This is a Hitchcock movie. Made in 2018, which is why it’s entirely an action movie and basically Source Code. But as much as someone could try to pull off a Hitchcock plot in 2018, this one tries to. And it’s fine. It’s fun. Doesn’t amount to anything more than a Liam Neeson action movie, but in the realm of those, this is one of the better ones. So there’s that. For a January movie, it definitely is better than you’re used to. As just a movie to watch, you could do far worse than this.

Created Equal — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

This is a step above Lifetime movie, a step below Netflix movie. It’s about a nun who wants to get ordained as a priest. And the Church refuses to let her do it, because they’re backwards and fear change, and so she sues them. And it’s a trial movie. So that made it watchable, but the writing and look of the film were so low-rent, the only way this could have been made was between 1987 and 1994. Only in those years could this have been made and have maybe worked. Otherwise, we’re left with this, which is something that 99% of you will never see, and with good reason.

Dear Dictator — * * * (3 stars)

This feels like something that would have been made 15-20 years ago. It still has that tone. Doesn’t quite work today, but it’s fine. Odeya Rush is a rebellious high school student who starts writing to a dictator (played by Michael Caine, naturally) for a pen pal assignment at school. He actually writes back to her. Then, when he is overthrown, he flees his country and shows up at her house. So she and her single mom (Katie Holmes) are housing this dictator who is trying to figure out a way to regain power. It’s a comedy, don’t worry. It’s totally fine. Has its moments, has moments that are very dated and just don’t work. Uneven, but okay. And a throwback to something I’d have seen when I was much younger. Which I always appreciate.

The Death of Stalin — * * * * (4 stars)

It’s Armando Ianucci, who did In the Loop, one of the better comedies of the past decade, and Veep, which people love. This is about the days immediately following (insert title here). And it’s just hilarious. From the opening scene of the concert, to every scene with Steve Buscemi and Jeffrey Tambor…. “U….nanimous.” Or that moment at the funeral where Buscemi is trying to trade places with him… oh my god. In the Loop is one of those movies that people slowly figured out is one of the funniest things you could see, and this is gonna be the same way. At this moment in time, this is my favorite movie of 2018. So do with that what you will. But shit, man, this is the funniest movie I’ve seen in a while, and this is what comedy should be. Forget all that other shit. THIS is comedy.

Death Wish — * * * (3 stars)

A remake that came out about five years too late, and at the exact wrong time. This was put out within ten days of the Parkland shooting. And a movie about a dude becoming a vigilante and murdering people… not the best thing to put out when it is. But it was also a Weinstein movie that got bumped from last year because of the scandal, so in a way this being buried feels fitting. But as a movie, it’s fine. It’s not gonna hold a candle to the original Death Wish, and we all knew that. It’s totally fine. Bruce Willis at least half looks like he gives a shit, which is a welcome change. Vincent D’Onofrio is there, which is always welcome. It’s a quick 90 minutes and out. Don’t pretend like it needs to be high art.

Den of Thieves — * * * (3 stars)

This felt like the proper January movie. Crime thriller, B level cast. You think you know what you’re getting. But you know what? This was more engaging than that. Even if I got the 3 stars I was expecting… there’s more to it than that. It’s almost two-and-a-half hours! It’s like an auteur level crime film. Or at least that’s what the writer/director was going for. It’s very engaging, well made, and adds up to a bit more than the sum of its parts. I appreciated this. It’s like a solid 3.25 star movie. It’s worth your time.

Dude — * * * (3 stars)

Fun little high school movie. I feel like I’m seeing Alexandra Shipp in everything this year. This has to be like the fifth movie so far. Overall, it’s decent. They’re all of similar ilk, high school movies and they all go in the same territory and all have those bits that seem like new writers trying to be cute, but that’s the genre. I’m totally cool with it. As long as the writing isn’t too cliched and the cast is good, I’m fine with these movies. And this one checked both boxes.

Early Man — * * * (3 stars)

It’s Aardman, who always makes worthwhile films, from Wallace and Gromit to Shawn the Sheep to Pirates! Band of Misfits. This one… I honestly didn’t think I was getting what I got. This is a sports movie! I thought it was a comedy about cave dwellers. Turns out, it’s a soccer movie. No idea how it turned into that, but okay. It’s a decent movie. The same kind of quality we usually get from Aardman. I’m not overly in love with their movies, but they’re cute and well made. This is that. If you like their stuff, you’ll like this.

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Great documentary about one of our greatest musicians. I always love a good music documentary.

Fifty Shades Freed — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I watched every movie in this franchise. How’s that taste? I’m just kinda glad for it all to be over. The first one was unwatchable, the second one was bad but at least competently made. This one… just kinda going through the motions. Like a lame duck politician. Just counting the minutes before we could all be done with it. Dornan and Johnson clearly have stopped caring and have ‘contractually obligated’ written all over their faces. I couldn’t even tell you what the plot of this was and I don’t care. We’re done. And I managed to sit through all three of these fucking things. Congrats on all the money, Twilight fan fic lady!

Final Portrait — * * * (3 stars)

Stanley Tucci directed this, which is pretty dope. He’s directed five movies. Did you know that? Everyone knows Big Night, but no one really knows the others. This is about an Italian sculptor (Giacometti) an a portrait he does of an author. Geoffrey Rush plays Giacometti (and when you look the dude up… great choice) and Armie Hammer plays the author. Tony Shalhoub plays Giacometti’s brother. It’s pretty much just them in a room for most of the movie. It has its moments. It’s competently made. The scene near the end where Rush is negotiating with a pimp is great. The rest is just fine. More solidly made than most of the mainstream shit that they force out there in wide release.

First Match — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Really strong film. Not something you haven’t seen before, but it’s done with style and the acting is really good. It’s about a girl who was raised in foster families who is constantly getting into trouble. She eventually joins the men’s wrestling team at her high school as a way to channel her anger. And it works, because she’s good. Then her father gets out of prison and shows up in her life, and she dreams that he’ll take her in and they’ll be a family again (though you know where that subplot always goes). It’s really well done. I recommend this one pretty highly. One of the better Netflix movies out there, and a great debut for Olivia Newman.

The Forgiven — * * * (3 stars)

Apartheid drama directed by Roland Joffe. Forest Whitaker plays Desmond Tutu (which seemed destined to happen eventually) and Eric Bana plays a South African prisoner who did some horrible shit. Basically, he knows the dirty secrets and if he agrees to talk to Tutu, all the other people involved will make sure he dies. It’s fine. Bana is good, and Whitaker is okay. Doesn’t add up to much, but it’s a perfectly decent movie. Maybe if they made it in 1991, it could have been an Oscar type movie. Now… just okay.

Freak Show — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I had tracked this at one point and then gave up on it because it never came out. Then they dumped it in January on VOD. This was directed by Sting’s wife. It’s about a trans boy who wants to run for prom queen. It’s one of those heightened movies that I think is trying to be musicless Glee, but with drama? There’s a whole subplot about his devotion to his wayward mother (played by Bette Midler) who is destined to break his heart, and then there’s a random fucked up hate crime in the middle where he almost dies. It’s kind of a nuts movie. I got through it, and it was competent, but I’m not sure what the point of it all was and it was way too disjointed for me to care. Not to mention all the characters, including the main one, were all unlikable. Not sure who this is for, but it’s not for me.

Furlough — * * * (3 stars)

Fun little 90 minute movie. Tessa Thompson plays an uptight woman who works for a prison and is trying to get promoted. She’s tasked with taking Melissa Leo, a convict, to see her dying mother. And most of the movie is a pseudo-comedy (an adult comedy. Without real gags so much as character comedy) of them traveling on buses and things. It’s fine. Both actresses are good, and the movie generally works. Something you’ll probably have to seek out, but fans of either Leo or Thompson might do that, and it’s worth your time. Small movie, small pleasures, but it’s got charm to it.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is a biopic of Doug Kenney who founded National Lampoon. It’s a fun movie. Wildly anarchic and tries to break a bunch of rules, while still adhering to the biopic format. It works. It’s well done. Which should come as no surprise, since it was directed by David Wain. The actors are all great, and it’s just a really good movie. One of the better Netflix ones out there, and something I highly recommend.

Game Night — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This was way more fun than it had any reason to be. The trailer was solid, but I’ve been duped by those before. This actually held up its end of the bargain. Not something I think will hold up over time, but it was definitely really well executed and managed to be funny throughout, which is rare for a comedy. And it also didn’t resort to the type of shitty, low brow humor I can’t stand nowadays. Occasionally it veered that way, but it never crossed over into that territory, which I appreciated. A lot of fun all around, and all the great word of mouth you’ve heard about this is warranted. Go see it. It’s funny.

Game Over, Man — * * * (3 stars)

It’s Die Hard done by the Workaholics guys. Too dumb and over the top to be great, but it has its moments. Overall it’s fun. It’s fine. I guess if I watched the show I’d care more than I did? I don’t know. It’s just a fun movie you can get through for 90 minutes. There are better Netflix movies I’d recommend more, but there are also a lot of way worse ones.

Golden Exits — * * * (3 stars)

I hadn’t seen an Alex Ross Perry movie before this. People have been raving about his stuff for years. But I also saw that the people who were raving about it gave me the impression that the movies are the “decent indie” sort that are lauded by the pretentious art film crowd. So I kept my distance. And I started here. And… I feel like I was right. This is a New York art indie. Noah Baumbach, Woody Allen. This is in that mold. Unhappy intellectuals talking about the state of existence and bemoaning their place, as they live in ridiculously expensive apartments. The people here feel more reasonably income bracketed, but still. These aren’t my kinds of movies. The actors I all liked — and Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys is the lead (what?) — but the movie was just whatever for me. No real resolution and no real purpose. Definitely something I’m gonna leave to that arty crowd that likes this kinda stuff.

Half Magic — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Heather Graham wrote and directed this. And… it feels kinda like a first film. Also feels like it was written by someone who got stuck in how movies were made 20 years ago. Kinda like Dean Devlin and Geostorm. Where you’re like, “You do realize that movies are nothing like that anymore, and that people will actively dislike your movie if you try to pull that off now, right?” I appreciate that she made a movie, but she plays an aspiring writer who works for an overly misogynist director and tries to get him to read her female-driven scripts. It sounds like something I’d have written when I was 19. The kinds of plots she talks about (which — people being writers in movies is almost never pulled off well. And people being screenwriters… god help us all) are just so generic and are the kind of thing that you wouldn’t even put in a movie because they’re so obviously fake. Then there’s this weird rom com element to it, and I’m not really sure where any of that ended up. But it’s out there. So sure. No one’s gonna see this, but Heather Graham made a movie. So good for her.

Happy Anniversary — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Really nice little relationship movie. Ben Schwartz and Noel Wells (who wrote and directed a decent little indie, Mr. Roosevelt, last year) are approaching their three-year anniversary and both have a crisis of conscience and have to decide whether or not to stay married. It flashes back to their early days as a couple and does a good job. It doesn’t try to do anything more than it should, and while it almost veers into improbability (the getting-back-together-with-their-exes bit that all these movies start to go toward), it works. I really enjoyed it, and I think this is one of those Netflix movies you should definitely check out. Noel Wells is great and should be in way more stuff, and Ben Schwartz, even though I haven’t really watched most of his TV stuff, is great here. Definite recommend here.

The Hurricane Heist — * * * (3 stars)

This movie featured exactly zero tropical storm thefts. 0/10. As a heist movie… ehh. It’s like shitty Twister. Meets Die Hard. You know what you’re getting. It’s not even as good as the 3 stars I gave it. But it’s a dumb movie with a cool name and a high concept… that probably requires you to be high while watching it. There’s nothing wrong with niche movies. Hey, it can’t be any worse than Geostorm, right?

I Kill Giants — * * * * (4 stars)

This is basically the version of A Monster Calls that actually succeeds in what it wants to do. Now, I loved A Monster Calls, but I loved the idea of A Monster Calls more than I loved the finished product. The movie feels flawed in the sense that it’s missing a proper first act to make the rest of the movie as devastating as it should be. This movie… different. But when you watch it, you’ll see why it’s a proper comp. It’s really well done. It situates you in this girl’s world and slowly builds it out to show you the reality as she starts to realize it. It looks amazing considering what I’m sure the budget was. This is the kind of movie I’d have randomly seen on TV in the 90s and fallen in love with because it’s so well-made and so interesting and gives you such a great perspective into this girl’s existence. I’m such a huge fan of this, and I can’t wait to see what this director (who did the Oscar-winning short Helium, which was incredible) does next.

Irreplaceable You — * * * (3 stars)

Well… this is interesting. One of two Gugu Mbatha-Raw films to premiere on Netflix within two weeks. This is the better of the two. It’s… a romantic comedy that turns into a tragedy? It starts off cute… she’s the type-A woman who basically tells a guy they’re gonna date when they’re kids. Cut to twenty-something years later and they’re gonna get engaged. She thinks she’s pregnant, only to find out that it’s inoperable tumors, and she’s dying. So now she’s dealing with that. And part of the movie is the on-the-nose support group stuff that all these movies do, and part of it is her not really dealing with her impending death and trying to fix her fiancé up with the right girl after she’s gone. It doesn’t always work, but she’s great, and the movie hints at some really interesting turns it could have taken. So, overall, I’m fine with it. But mostly this is the kind of movie I’d watch to spark myself into finding a way to do it better. There are a lot of those, and I always respect them. I say, if you’re gonna watch this, you probably wanna be a high-school age girl, or be watching it for Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who is an actress who should have fully broken by now and is so close to doing so. Oh, and Christopher Walken is in this, so there’s that too.

Isle of Dogs — * * * * (4 stars)

Wes Anderson brings about an interesting dynamic. Because his movies aren’t gauged alongside other movies, they’re gauged alongside his own. So I saw this and thought, “Wow, this was a bit disappointing.” And it’s not. It’s a great movie and fantastically animated and a really great time. But I watch it and go, “That’s one of my least favorite Wes Anderson films.” Which sounds like a strong statement, but it also goes to show how many great movies the man’s made. That’s like me saying Magnolia is one of my least favorite Paul Thomas Anderson movies. It’s still fucking Magnolia. This… really fun, but I just didn’t spark to it the way I spark to most of his other stuff. I don’t know. Something about it. Really great, though, and knowing the bullshit that’s coming down the pike, I suspect I will be rooting for this as Best Animated Feature at the Oscars this year. In terms of Wes Anderson, though… it felt like a disappointment. Which it kind of has since he announced it.

Jesus Christ Superstar Live — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I enjoy these live musicals. In the pantheon of these live shows, Grease Live is still the best. This… might be the second best. I never saw The Sound of Music, but by all accounts it wasn’t great. Peter Pan Live was not great. The Wiz was fine. Hairspray was fine. A Christmas Story Live wasn’t great. I think this and The Wiz are probably competing for that second spot below Grease, which is still the benchmark for how to do these things. I’m still appreciative of all of them, since the level of artistry and effort it takes to pull one of these off is very impressive. I thought John Legend did fine as Jesus, the guy playing Judas was great. Alice Cooper was nice in the big cameo part. I think it worked. The staging was fun, and the idea of doing it in the theater like that was really cool. I think this one worked for what it was as a musical. Also, depending on the rights, there are still a lot of cool shows they could try to pull off live. Obviously it needs to be stuff not still running. No chance they do Wicked before its run ends (and its likely movie comes out). But they could totally try to pull off Les Mis, West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, My Fair Lady, Chicago, Jersey Boys (or too soon?), Phantom, Rent, Annie, Dreamgirls or… if you wanna tie it in later this year, Mary Poppins. There are options. You can find inventive ways to do all of them. I don’t think they should kill this trend. I like that they’re doing this.

Journey’s End — * * * (3 stars)

Love me some World War I trench movies. This one’s been made a couple times now, so it’s not a particularly original World War I trench story, but I’ll take anything I can get. Paul Bettany is an eternally underrated actor, and he gets a leading role here. And you get some nice character actors sprinkled throughout. This won’t appeal to most, because it’s based on a play and more people talking than battle scenes. But if you like World War I as I do, then you’ll get more out of this than most.

Kodachrome — * * * (3 stars)

This is just hipster Nebraska. The irony, of course, being that hipsters love Nebraska and won’t like this. You’ve seen this movie before: struggling dude reunites with his estranged father to go on a road trip. Here, it’s Jason Sudeikis instead of Will Forte, Ed Harris instead of Bruce Dern, and instead of June Squibb being the foul-mouthed old lady, there’s Elizabeth Olsen as a love interest. It’s even got Eddie Vedder songs! It’s fine. Perfectly fine. This sold at one of the festivals for an obscene amount of money, and you thought it would get an Oscar push. But it would have been utterly reviled had they done that. This way it has a chance to win over some more people on its own merits. It’s a well-worn road, this one, but it has its charms. You know where it’s going, you know what it’s doing, but sometimes the ride is all you need. Though, if I could never hear movie characters’ describe their favorite music, I’d be okay with that.

The Last Movie Star — * * * (3 stars)

This movie did something I’ve never seen before. It’s the movie that Burt Reynolds has been doing all the press for recently, that most people probably only know because of that. It’s a movie designed around Burt and about a movie star who is getting old. He gets invited to a film festival and accepts, only to find out that it’s just a bunch of kids throwing it out of a bar. And since he’s from the area, he goes around, sort of examining where his life is at and taking a trip down memory lane, thinking of all his greatest moments and the parts that he did wrong. The thing it does that I’ve never seen before… it splices Old Burt into Young Burt’s movies. They use real old interviews of Burt on talk shows spliced throughout the movie (he’s playing a fictional actor but they’re using his real clips, which blurs the line nicely). But twice, they have Burt envisioning himself talking to the characters he plays. In the first, he’s sitting shotgun in the Bandit’s car, and they use real dialogue from the film to make the lines fit in together. And the second one is him in the boat during Deliverance. It’s a nice trick, and if it were done in a movie that got a wide release, I think people would be praising it as being genius. But this is a movie that only came out in like two theaters and went VOD, so I don’t think enough people will see this to realize what a great idea that is.

Like Me — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I’d been following this for over a year because I’m such a fan of Addison Timlin. I think she’s an actress that should be in way bigger stuff who picks really interesting material and is willing to take risks. You wouldn’t see Jennifer Lawrence picking the kind of stuff she does. This is a movie that apparently the director spent years putting together. Imagine coming up with a movie in college and spending the rest of your 20s trying to make it a reality. That’s what this feels like. The film is based around a girl who is just dissociated from reality. No friends, seemingly no family. She goes around, committing crimes and videotaping them so she can put them on Youtube and get people to react to them. The progression of the story is kinda slight, and after a while I’m not sure what the ultimate goal is, but it’s really well directed. Robert Mockler, the director, adds a lot of visual flourish to it (he splices in all sorts of cool shit, almost like Natural Born Killers did) and elevates what could have been some indie that ended up as part of the pack to something that stands out. I hope he won himself a lot of fans and will get more opportunities going forward, because this was a really well done film.

Little Bitches — * * * (3 stars)

This is your generic high school movie that actually has some more to it than you’d think. There are the same bits that every movie has — like the guidance counselor role that’s designed for someone to just say raunchy shit and improvise (which is so tired now that I wish movies would just fucking stop doing it). But the main relationship between the girls worked, and the actresses did a fine job. Usually I’d go 2.5 on something like this, just because some of it is so wildly over the top it’s almost embarrassing. But there’s a section of this movie that works. You gotta sift through a bunch of nonsense to get there, but I was expecting worse. And sure, the entire premise is just flawed — it’s about three girls who are best friends who decide to, at the end of the final college party of the year, open their admissions letters at the same time. Which… schools wanna know if you’re going before that. And also, you know if you’re getting in because you either get a letter or a packet — but I’m fine with this.

Looking Glass — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Does Nic Cage just sign his checks for these movies right over to the IRS? Because it seems like that’s what’s going on. There’s like, no energy from him here. This is a bad thriller. It could have been made in the 90s, but it still wouldn’t have been good then. He takes over a motel with his wife, and pretty soon someone who stayed there goes missing and is found dead. And he realizes some shit is going down. Maybe if you made this in 1947 it could work, but now… nah. Cage used to at least be fun when he made his bullshit. Now he’s not even that. This sucks, man.

Love, Simon — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

They tried some shrewd marketing for this movie, putting up billboards for this movie in West Hollywood specifically for West Hollywood. Which, for people not from LA, West Hollywood is generally known for its thriving gay community. This is a movie that I’m not gonna try to analyze from a cultural standpoint. I truly don’t know what this means for the gay community, if this is a step forward or not. I just know that, as a movie, I saw a pretty generic portrait of how nice it is to be gay and have middle class, supportive parents, a close friend group and a secret gay pen pal who turns out to be someone you know! Most of the cast is very one-note (the drama teacher is that over-the-top character written to steal scenes by saying raunchy shit, and there’s Tony Hale as the Vice Principal who is just there to be a name you recognize and was clearly only on set for like, four days), and it felt too clean for what the movie was trying to be. That said, it’s a gay male protagonist who is not a stereotypical gay male character, and that might mean a lot to people. To me, I’m thinking about all the people who are unable to come out to their parents or friends or school because they live in the deep South, in very religious and bigoted areas of the country. It’s not as neat as this movie presents it. Also, there are several hate crimes that are blatantly committed in this movie. And that’s just cool, I guess? Also, every time I see a high school movie… why do all these movies have wildly over-the-top and inaccurate bullying? Just once I’d like to see realistic high school interaction. This movie didn’t do anything for me. It was all too clean and too sanitized for mainstream America. Nice effort, but it wasn’t for me.

The Maze Runner: The Death Cure — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Hey, remember this franchise? It still exists! There have been zero mazes since the first movie, so I’ve been out since then. I came here to watch people run mazes. And we’re all out of mazes, guys. They’ve taken this to the saturation point of every young adult franchise… the oppressive government and the big, action-heavy finale where we’re supposed to give a shit about anything that happens. Guess what… I don’t. Hunger Games… I stopped caring after two. Divergent… they didn’t even get to finish those movies because they were so bad. This one… couldn’t tell you what happened in the second one. I could barely tell you what happened in the first one. But apparently they finished it out as if people cared, and we got a 140 minute movie! WHY????? Gonna be honest, I think I had less fun in this than I did in Fifty Shades Freed, which should tell you everything you need to know.

Mom and Dad — * * * (3 stars)

Good to see nutso Nicolas Cage make a brief appearance. He had three movies all come out within a few weeks of each other, and this is by far the only one worth seeing. It’s directed by one of the guys who did Crank, and is about a virus that hits the air that makes parents want to kill their children. The nice twist is, it’s only their children. They won’t kill anyone else’s children. It’s the kind of thing where, whenever they see their kids, they have the irrational desire to murder them. Other than that, they’re perfectly normal. So it’s just mayhem. Cage gets to go bonkers, which is what we want, and the movie is pure B movie madness. Not the greatest movie in the world, but I highly recommend it. This is the kind of movie you watch in your dorm room with friends on a Saturday night because it’s so nuts. You guys want good Cage? This is it.

Mountain — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

You know those IMAX documentaries you see when you go to science museums and such? This feels like one of those. Just gorgeous shots of mountains narrated by Willem Dafoe. Not much more than that. Just cool nature shots. What more do you need?

Mute — * * * (3 stars)

Man… Duncan Jones. Talk about ‘what happened?’. Moon was really good, Source Code was solid… then Warcraft. And then you hear, he’s gonna follow it up with this movie, and you think, “Okay, palate cleanser.” But then… what is this? It’s totally watchable. He created his own universe and reality and he played within that sandbox. Only… it’s like Southland Tales. You’re not really sure why or what or what the point is or anything. He made MTV’s Blade Runner. Alexander Skarsgard is a mute who is trying to find his girlfriend who goes missing, and there are all these shady characters… it’s a noir set in a graphic novel. But it’s just too nuts to work. The main character disappears for fifteen minutes as we follow Paul Rudd around because he’s more interesting than the main character. It’s so weird. Most people consider this a major failure. I will say this is an interesting effort that does not work. It is a disappointment, since we did think Duncan Jones would be a cool, original voice in cinema for a little while, but it’s not anything worse than some of the shit you’ll see in a given year. Some things just don’t work.

Nostalgia — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Yeesh. Always bad when movies are about ideas and not people, and all the characters spout philosophies instead of words. It feels like the movie is talking to you rather than giving the people in it something to do. Never a fan of these. And to make it worse, look at the title… definitely not something I want a movie to be about. But hey, if you want to hours of everyone waxing poetic about the same thing and being hit over the head again and again with obvious themes, be my guest.

The Open House — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Netflix horror movie devoid of tension, scares and any bit of screen time that I found remotely engaging. Definitely down near the bottom of their original movies in terms of quality, along with that terrible psychologist-losing-her-shit movie that came out last January. Don’t bother with this one at all.

An Ordinary Man — * * * (3 stars)

I saw a trailer for this and immediately wanted to see it. Then I looked it up and saw it was directed by Brad Silberling, who hasn’t made a movie since the giant disaster that was Land of the Lost nine years ago. (He did also direct A Series of Unfortunate Events, Casper and City of Angels, so there’s that.) Ben Kingsley is a war criminal who is supposed to be under protection. But he refuses to hide, so he keeps going out to get the paper and get groceries and they keep having to move him to different places lest people find out he’s not hiding in the mountains where the government is claiming he is. And then a young woman shows up to his new place and he takes her in as his maid. So it’s almost like a weird Scent of a Woman, but with a war criminal. Not quite, but you get the general idea. It doesn’t amount to as much as it could have, but it’s well made and engaging enough. Falls apart at the end, but thankfully doesn’t devolve into a shoot out or anything like that. If it seems interesting, I say go for it. I like the premise, and if anything, it might spark someone with the idea of how to make a better version of this good idea.

Outside In — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Jay Duplass is a dude who went to prison twenty-five years ago for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And now, he’s finally gotten the conviction overturned and is a free man, though now he’s almost 40. No friends, no idea about the world past 1997, and he tries to reenter the world by getting weirdly close to his former teacher, who helped get him out, and her daughter. Not really sure what the point of this is, and it doesn’t really amount to much. But Edie Falco and Kaitlyn Dever are fine. It almost held my attention all the way through (lost me in the last 20, once… well, once a particular event happens). Not something people need concern themselves with. Sometimes when you’re looking for gems you get duds. It happens. Part of the game.

The Outsider — * * * (3 stars)

This is a Netflix movie in which Jared Leto, an American, joins the yakuza. Do with that what you will. The script was originally on the Black List (though a lot of shitty movies had scripts on the Black List, and the more you pay attention, the more you realize how rigged that whole thing is), and the movie ended up on Netflix with terrible reviews. I guess there is a version of this movie that could have been really good. You were always gonna have trouble with the notion of an American in the yakuza. People are gonna jump on the cultural appropriation train automatically and make so much noise that even if your movie isn’t that you can’t overcome it. But the movie just feels like too much is going on. There are parts I liked. But ultimately it’s too all-over-the-place to work. It also does that Last Samurai thing of him falling for the daughter of a mobster. Which… come on, guys. Why must we resort to such obvious genre tropes? Clearly Jared Leto was like a fourth option on this cast list and they wanted someone way bigger. But in the end, we got a mediocre movie that maybe could have been good but isn’t. So here we are. Shit happens.

Pacific Rim: Uprising — * * * (3 stars)

This is an interesting animal. Everyone seems to have gotten what they wanted out of this. Guillermo del Toto was gonna direct it and left to do The Shape of Water. That certainly worked out. Then the studio clearly wanted to trim down the budget and not spend what Guillermo would have required to do it, and they wanted to build out the universe and make it so there are teams of Jaegers and have them fit into the thing they’re building with Kong and Godzilla. Which they did, for better or worse. This feels like the lesser sequel to a solid first movie. New stars, vaguely related, build out the universe, have some nuts twist and then go from there. The interesting thing is that the Kaiju are mostly dead here. And when weird shit starts happening, they have some convoluted explanation for it that sounds like something out of a cartoon show from the 80s and 90s. Overall, it’s fine. Why John Boyega had to be Idris Elba’s son… no clue. Why they had to bring back Rinko Kikuchi’s character just to kill her needlessly… no idea. But it exists. They have John Boyega and a kid. Sure. The actual plot… could not care less. Am I excited to keep watching these movies? Not at all. But hey, I hope that cash grab was worth it*! (*The movie won’t make more than $75 million domestic, which is half its budget, and did almost all its business overseas, which is where these kinds of movies are being marketed to anyway now. So have fun being stuck with movies that aren’t made for you anymore, America!)

Paddington 2 — * * * (3 stars)

Well this was delightful. I didn’t really like the first Paddington. It was whatever to me. Cute but kiddie. This one was closer to hitting the sweet spot. Not sure why. Maybe it was the emotional place I was in when I saw it. But it’s lovely. It’s a family movie that you can just enjoy. You know what it is, and it’s just got a general sweetness about it that works. Perfect for the under-10 crowd. I can see why people love this franchise. It works.

Paradox — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Let me just get this set up out of the way and then we can sort of try to work our way through the rest together. This is a movie, directed by Daryl Hannah, starring Neil Young and his band, that’s part concert film, part wannabe Terrence Malick film, part western? Neil Young and the band play characters, who are sort of given characteristics, but none of that’s ever really developed. They’re just hanging out in a present day west, just kinda doing nothing. They all play music and apparently they wait for the moon, which means they can play music for people? I’m thinking it’s a meditation on performance, where the musician is like the outlaw, bored and killing time between jobs. I have no idea. It’s weird, but the music is good. Because it’s Neil Young. After a while it stops trying to be anything other than just Neil Young performing, so that’s good. And it’s only like 70 minutes long. But it’s weird, man. It’s on Netflix, so you can check it out. I think maybe the best way to watch it is how I did — watch the first seven or eight minutes and see what the hell it’s going for, then just sort of start cleaning your apartment and realize all you gotta do is just listen to the music and not really watch the rest of it. No idea how this exists, but it does, so it’s a curiosity if anything.

Pass Over — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Spike Lee shot a play and released it theatrically. I’m not big on theater, so this didn’t do a whole lot for me. Others might like it a lot. It’s Waiting for Godot except it’s two African American guys on the corner, hoping not to get shot by the police. It’s well-written and there’s a lot to like about the material. I just inherently don’t respond to stage acting and stage shows, so there was only so much this was gonna do for me.

Paterno — * * * (3 stars)

I like that Al Pacino is working his way through real people he can play for HBO. Phil Spector, Jack Kevorkian, now Joe Paterno. Barry Levinson directed two of those. Anyway, this is a movie about the Penn State scandal and about whether or not Paterno knew about it. The movie tries to play it both ways, where he’s this doddering old dude (Pacino plays him really old, to the point where you wonder if he should still be coaching, even though the team, for much of the film, is 8-1!) who is so dedicated to football that he might have let this whole thing slip by under his nose, but also where he may have known all along. The final scene seems to make it clear that he knew from as far back as the 70s and did nothing about it, but it never really decides one way or the other which way its politics lie. It’s not wholly successful, but as far as TV movies go, it’s fine.

The Party — * * * (3 stars)

Interesting movie. One-location play on screen, shot in black-and-white with a great cast. Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Cillian Murphy, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Cherry Jones and Bruno Ganz. That’s it, that’s the cast. It’s 70 minutes long, gets in and gets out. The premise is: Kristin Scott Thomas just won a big election and is celebrating (the ‘party’ in the title has two meanings, you see). But of course, as the evening goes on, secrets come out and all sort of crazy shit happens. Definitely something that was written for the stage, but it works as an interesting little chamber piece. Worth your time for sure because of the actors, though not the greatest thing you’ll ever see.

Permission — * * * (3 stars)

Interesting idea that never quite goes anywhere as interesting. Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens are college sweethearts who are finally about to get married. Though at a dinner party, it’s revealed that neither has slept with anyone else in their lives. So they start to wonder if they’re missing out because that’s all they know, sexually. So they decide to have an open marriage, where each can sleep with whomever they want and can tell the other about it afterward. So naturally, they both start fucking other people, and it just kinda devolves from there. Nothing deprave or anything like that, and the final scene just kind of comes out of nowhere. But they’re both good in it, and it’s engaging. But still… doesn’t really go anywhere all that interesting. So, fine, but maybe could have been better.

Peter Rabbit — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I knew from the jump that I wouldn’t like this. CG hybrid kids movie, with current day music and cultural references. Not a chance I was gonna enjoy it. Domhnall Gleeson gives it his all, but it’s just too lowest common denominator for me. Paddington is leaps and bounds above this in terms of quality.

Please Stand By — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I will start by saying that this is a movie that almost everyone is guaranteed to not like as much as I did. And I’m firmly aware that it’s not as good as that rating, and that it should probably be 3 stars. But I enjoyed it. So 3.5. Dakota Fanning is an autistic girl who is obsessed with Star Trek. She wants to enter a contest where they are accepting fan scripts for the next movie. Through plot machinations, she has to escape her group home and get to Paramount in order to hand deliver the script to meet the deadline. So it becomes about her venturing out into the world and fending for herself. It’s cute. Completely inconsequential, but it’s fun. You’ll know from the trailer whether or not you’re gonna like it. Use that as your barometer. Also, this is a movie by the guy who did The Sessions, so do with that what you will as well.

The Polka King — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

AWESOME movie. I love movies with this kind of tone. Jack Black plays a real dude (Jan Lewan, look him up) who at one point was nominated for a Grammy for Best Polka Album but ended up committing a bunch of securities fraud. It’s got a great tone. He’s this guy who just wants to succeed and does illegal shit in order to make ends meet. And then when things get too deep, he just keeps trying to lie his way out of it. It’s awesome. It’s so well done. The directors did this great movie called Bipolar Bear with Mark Ruffalo a few years ago. Jack Black notches another great performance that not enough people will see, and it’s just a really great movie. This is a Netflix movie worth watching. Really great stuff.

Proud Mary — * * * (3 stars)

They tried to make a Pam Grier movie with Taraji P. Henson. Only they didn’t really try to make it blaxploitation, so instead it’s a barely-average action movie. It’s fine. Henson’s good and the cast is engaging, but it doesn’t amount to much. Simple kinda B movie. It’s not campy or ‘John Wick’-y enough to break out. Instead, you watch it, maybe you’re okay with it, and you move on. I appreciate the effort, but that’s all this is.

A Quiet Place — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

It’s solid. Well done movie aided by the near-silent approach. Classically shot, which I like, since I can’t stand when things are shot too tight or handheld. This way makes it feel like a real movie, and not one that’s just going for cheap scares to make a buck. This benefits from a good idea and solid execution. I’m not going out and proclaiming this the greatest movie of the year like a lot of people are, but it’s well done.

Rampage — * * * (3 stars)

How do McG and Bret Ratner feel that Brad Peyton is the new them? Churning out completely styleless, utterly generic, but moderately fun big budget action movies? This is based on a video game whose sole purpose is having monster destroy buildings. And now they give us a plot. This might have been cool had they made it 20 years ago without really obvious CGI that just looks too fake to be engaging, but here we are. The Rock does what he can to liven it up, but this feels like a paycheck role for him. I wish he’d stretch himself as an actor and do cool shit. But someone I guess has to be the Stallone or Schwarzenegger and churn out these short-term action movies that won’t matter within five years.

Ready Player One — * * * * (4 stars)

I was dreading this for a while. The trailer was not good, and I was really concerned that Spielberg was gonna just self-reference and look back on his earlier, better movies. But, being perfectly honest… I liked this. Quite a bit. This was after some people I know saw it and liked it too. I honestly preferred the virtual stuff to the real world stuff, which I did not think would be the case. Everything expectation I had for this movie was subverted, and it was just a good, fun time. I’m really excited to see this again to see if I like it as much the second time. I am slightly worried about the interpretation of this as Willy Wonka and the Video Game Factory, and the way the kid wins is by knowing 80s references. But the movie kind of makes the case that it’s more about loving video games and being more about the playing than the completion, which I’m willing to at least buy for now. Maybe it doesn’t succeed and the themes of this movie are hollow, but I had a fun time, so I’m okay for the moment. I think, in the end, I might end up liking this more than The Post, which a year ago I wouldn’t think was even possible. We’re still a long ways from the great Spielberg of 15 years ago, but this is a perfectly acceptable film that I thought was gonna be a disaster. I guess that’s just what happens when you’re a master filmmaker.

Red Sparrow — * * * (3 stars)

They moved this out of Thanksgiving into March, so that told you everything you needed to know about the quality. Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton elevated what was a generic thriller into a very sleek looking generic thriller. The cast is really nice, and it’s well made, but it amounts to next to nothing. I do, however, appreciate them going hard R, with the nudity and the adult themes. You’d think, with her in it, they’d try to PG-13 it to have the Hunger Games fans be able to go. But no. They stuck to their guns. Which I appreciate. Still, nothing more than a generic thriller with a good cast, which is exactly what was expected from this. So there you go.

Roxanne Roxanne — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Nice little niche biopic about Roxanne Shanté, famous for the early hip hop song “Roxanne’s Revenge,” which she recorded when she was 14. Well done, lot of fun, really solid movie. On Netflix and easily gettable. Definitely worth seeing.

Sherlock Gnomes — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

The sequel to Gnomeo and Juliet that nobody asked for. Here, we introduce Johnny Depp as Sherlock Gnomes. I will never begrudge a movie with a pun title, but this was generic all the way. Did absolutely nothing for me, and I guess this is for the under 8 crowd. So I’ll leave it to them. Still weird, though, to think that this franchise was basically created by Elton John.

Small Town Crime — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

John Hawkes has become the king of these low budget, VOD crime movies that are actually quite solid. This is almost an Elmore Leonard story. Alcoholic disgraced former cop finds the body of a young woman who later dies and decides to investigate her death, thrusting him into a web of conspiracy and all that good shit. It’s really well made, a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it. Definitely gonna be one of the year’s hidden gems.

Spinning Man — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

What the actual fuck was this? I tracked it and forgot all about it. Then when I put it on I went, “Guy Pearce, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, what the hell?” I thought it might be okay because of the cast. And then… nah. He’s a professor who is questioned in the case of a missing girl. And all the evidence starts to suggest that he may have had something to do with her disappearance. And he says he didn’t. So either he’s completely lying and the movie’s gonna take one of those nuts third act turns, or he didn’t do it and we’re wasting our time. Over the course of the movie, he begins to convince himself that he did do it, and then, once we get to the ending, it gets so convoluted that I’m not sure what the hell we’re supposed to believe, and then none of it is interesting, so I didn’t even care to try to figure it out. Complete VOD dud with a good cast. They happen, but it’s definitely a shame.

Stephanie — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Akiva Goldsman’s follow-up to Winter’s Tale. You know, the movie with Colin Farrell and the unicorn. This is a Blumhouse movie, and if I can think of things I’d want to see least, an Akiva Goldsman Blumhouse movie would be near the top of that list. It actually starts off halfway decently… the little girl is alone in the house and you get little clues as you go along as to what’s going on. Then when that’s about to run out of ideas, the movie shifts. And then it keeps shifting, and the more it shifts, the less I gave a shit. You can see things coming and none of it adds up to anything particularly interesting. It wasn’t for me. You can tell it’s not that great because it’s a Blumhouse movie that didn’t come out in theaters. That means it’s a mistake they’re sweeping under the rug. It feels kinda like one.

The Strangers: Prey at Night — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Gonna be honest…. never saw the first one. But, this is substantially different enough (so I’m told) that it won’t matter that I haven’t seen it. Since all you really need to know is set up: people in masks torment and kill regular people. Cool. I don’t generally care about movies like this, and as such, I didn’t care about this one. This isn’t my genre. These movies don’t do anything for me. I leave them to people who like them.

Submergence — * * * (3 stars)

Well this was pretty dull. Wim Wenders movie with Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy. You’d expect fairly decent, but most people forget that the last bunch of Wim Wenders movies have not been good. This is more of the same. The screen presence of the leads keeps it watchable, but it’s not very good. Generally kinda boring and adds up to approximately nothing.

Sun Dogs — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Jennifer Morrison directed this, and I’m always curious when actors direct. The movie, though… it’s about a I guess developmentally disabled kid who wants to join the army? But when he’s not fit, they tell him he can do more at home, which then sets him on a journey with a loner chick to maybe bust a guy who could be a terrorist? It’s very strange. Not sure what the tone of this is meant to be, drama, comedy, romance? Didn’t work for me at all. But Ed O’Neill played the dad, so that was cool. I like seeing him in movies.

Step Sisters — * * (2 stars)

Oh hell no. This is one of those Netflix comedies that’s just completely tone deaf on every level. It’s so heightened that nothing in it remotely resembles reality, and it’s the kind of 2018 culture that I want no part of. So I hated just about every minute of this movie. This is like that shitty music festival one they put out or that one with the hashtag title. Just, no. No all around.

The Titan — * * * (3 stars)

This is a weird one. Bunch of people training for a space mission, then they’re given some sort of hormones to make them superhuman, but then they start turning into some sort of creatures? Very strange. I wondered why Sam Worthington was the star, and then when he transformed into an Avatar creature, I understood. It’s not that great. But the early scenes held my attention. Not sure I like him being essentially Dr. Manhattan at the end, but whatever. Solid cast, decent enough watch, never gonna see this again.

Tomb Raider — * * * (3 stars)

So we all know what happens when they make movies based on video games. They call it a curse, but really it’s just… no one’s ever properly done it. And I’m not gonna say this one did. But I will say… within fifteen minutes of starting this movie… I kinda liked it. It was fun. Inconsequential action, and it held my attention. You don’t hold video game movies to any sort of bar, but I feel like this one was one of the better ones. And, in trying to make this argument to the guys at the office, I pulled up the ratings for all the video game movies ever made. And do you know what the highest rated one ever is? This one. Sure, it only had 49% on Rotten Tomatoes, but that’s over 10% higher than anything else. 50% feels like what this is. Some will not like it, some will think it’s fine. No one’s gonna mistake this for high art. But you can enjoy yourself, and as far as this genre goes, it’s a relatively respectable entry. One day, someone will figure out how to do one of these properly, but for now, this might be the best one we’ve gotten.

Truth or Dare — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Just another Blumhouse movie. Final Destination but with Truth or Dare. Sure. Go nuts. Not for me at all.

The Vanishing of Sidney Hall — * * * (3 stars)

I looked up this movie as I was watching it, and that’s when it all made sense. So this is a script written by Shawn Christensen, who did the Oscar-winning short Curfew (which is great), and then expanded it into a feature, called Before I Disappear (solid, but not as good as the short). He wrote this script years ago, and it was something he’d been wanting to make. The idea was that he and his roommate, both in their early 20s at the time, wanted to make a movie about the difference between living in your 20s and then in your 30s. And that illuminated a lot for me. Because this feels like a movie you’d write before you were 25. Something that would be your first script. This got him signed to an agency, and once he won the Oscar and directed a feature, he started working to get this made. Here’s the problem: first script indie movie tropes. The main character is a talented writer. So right there I’m picturing a 20 year old writer writing about a a successful 20 year old writer and groaning inside my head, because that’s the kind of thing I had to force myself not to write, because that’s what we all want to write at that age. And the dude becomes successful off one book and then goes full Salinger and disappears. And the movie shows you him at 18, 24 and 30. It’s… it just feels like a script by a 20 year old. Critics hated this. I thought it had some merits and was well directed, but man, don’t try to direct something you wrote when you were 20. It almost never turns out well. The kid becomes a famous author? And then people are talking about how great the book was? No, man. This only works if it’s a book first. Make this your American Pastoral or some shit and then make it a movie. Because this way, I’m just looking at all the stuff that reeks of first-time writer. I did end up liking this movie, don’t get me wrong, but man… I think I’m gonna be in the minority there.

The Week Of — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Adam Sandler Netflix movie. That about covers it, doesn’t it? I like to think I do this so you don’t have to.

Welcome the Stranger — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

No. Just gonna leave it at no. Too pretentious, too atmospheric, no substance. The entire cast is Caleb Landry Jones, Riley Keogh and Abbey Lee. But the movie’s just not good. Don’t know what the point of it was, and it was abstract enough to the point where nothing happened. Not a fan.

When We First Met — * * * (3 stars)

Netflix seems to be cashing in on these Groundhog Day ripoffs. This is Adam Devine’s attempt at being a leading man. It goes fine, but the movie’s not great. This is Groundhog Day for Valentine’s Day. It’s him reliving his relationship with the woman he’s in love with. Basically, they met on Halloween and had an amazing night… only for her to friend zone him. So he finds a way to go back and relive that night again… only each time he does it differently, we cut to three years later and see how different his life is because of it. It’s by the numbers through and through, but the cast is game. So there’s that. Doesn’t do a whole lot, but it’s watchable and you can enjoy it once.

Wildling — * * * (3 stars)

This started off strong and then got too weird for me. I like Bel Powley a lot, and she’s the reason I saw this. It’s about a girl raised in the woods by a man, told she can never leave the house and kept basically as a captive. Then one day, he shoots himself. She wakes up in the hospital and is taken in by a police officer to adjust to normal life. So you think it’s gonna be one of those movies. A sort of ‘Room’ style movie. But instead it turns into a sort of horror movie, where she’s like, part Bigfoot or something. Very strange turn. I didn’t dislike it, but the beginning made it seem like a character piece and then it went horror and I lost interest. Oh well.

Winchester — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Generic ghost story based on a pretty cool idea, that house. But the product tries to set up characters and a story and just devolves into boring ghost movie shit. Complete yawns all around. Waste of everyone’s times, especially its leads.

A Wrinkle in Time — * * * (3 stars)

Here’s the ultimate question for this movie — is it a disappointment if you saw it coming all along? Because they announced this and I went, “Okay.” Because who cares? This isn’t that beloved a book. Sure, most people read it when they’re young, but a fair amount of people (including myself) did not. And not everyone holds it sacred. And then it’s Disney, so you know they’re gonna homogenize it and put too much money into it. And I saw that from the minute that first trailer landed. I’ve been saying for six months how much I disliked their marketing for this. They were treating it like some master auteur product from “visionary director Ava DuVernay.” I like her, but I thought her direction was one of the negatives of Selma. And it’s tough to have a director with a vision going into the Disney machine, especially when tackling difficult subject matter (because let’s not pretend like the plot of this story makes any goddamn sense). Maybe you could have pulled this movie off in the 80s, when shit was okay to be weird. Labyrinth, Legend, NeverEnding Story. That’s the tone this should have been. Here it’s just too expensive, too sleek, and too all over the place and boring. They spend so much time setting up this story and I just didn’t care. And then they get into the different worlds and you have no real idea what’s going on, but they’re like, “But look! Oprah! Reese!” I was so happy when reviews for this were mixed, because it felt like a con job from the start. I saw them selling a bill of goods, and now when everyone feels cheated, I’m here like, “Why did no one else see this coming?” The movie’s fine. Because they spent $100+ million on it. Nothing at that high a budget is gonna be anything less than watchable. It could be dog shit, but it’ll at least be competent dog shit. This has to be seen as a giant disappointment from anyone with expectations for it, right?

You Were Never Really Here — * * * * (4 stars)

I was excited for this from last year. Weirdly this won Best Screenplay and Best Actor at Cannes. Having seen it, the fact that it won either astounds me. But Cannes is weird. So whatever. But the idea of Joaquin Phoenix going around and beating the shit out of people with hammers sounds cool. And Lynne Ramsey took what could have been a generic thriller and made it very artistic. Some people I know saw this and hated it because they wanted more action. I loved it. I like that they didn’t give us the generic version of this story. She made parts of it so abstract as to almost be surreal. Hell, I wanted her to go further. That ending in the diner? I wanted her to end there. Fuck it. Don’t tell us. I love the stuff they did in this, and I think this is one of the cooler movies of the year. It’s not gonna end up in my top ten, but this will be something I look back fondly on and talk up as being a really solid movie. Though for those of you looking for another Taken, don’t go in with those expectations. Because this is not that movie. And I’m worried that it’ll turn a lot of people off because it will subvert their expectations. Outside of that, I think this movie is awesome.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Films I Haven’t Seen:

  • Samson
  • Mad to Be Normal
  • The Cured
  • Every Day
  • Gringo
  • Thoroughbreds
  • 7 Days in Entebbe
  • Flower
  • Midnight Sun
  • Unsane
  • Finding Your Feet
  • Gemini
  • Chappquiddick
  • The Miracle Season
  • Lean on Pete
  • The Endless
  • Where Is Kyra?
  • The Rider
  • Krystal
  • Beirut
  • Super Troopers 2
  • I Feel Pretty
  • Godard Mon Amour
  • Traffik
  • Disobedience

The Films I Skipped:

  • Insidious: The Glass Key

– – – – – – – – – –

Favorite Movies So Far:

  • The Death of Stalin
  • You Were Never Really Here
  • Ready Player One
  • I Kill Giants
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Game Night
  • Black Panther
  • Small Town Crime
  • Happy Anniversary
  • A Quiet Place

– – – – – – – – – – –

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One response

  1. Damn shame you didn’t like Annihilation. Ex Machina may have the heavier subject matter, but I think I prefer Annihilation overall. Plus, the all-female cast is already underrated.

    I LOVE Isle of Dogs. Seen it four times, intend to see it a fifth, and, after Berlin, am seriously invested in the hope that Wes Anderson could become the first director of an animated film to get nominated for the Best Director Oscar.

    May 1, 2018 at 1:46 am

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