2018: The Year in Reviews (Part II)
It’s the second batch of reviews, guys.
I’ve been gone for most of the summer, recharging my batteries after the pile of shit that was the first 60% of this year. Which really means that I’ve been laying low and watching so many movies it’s disgusting when you put a number to it. (Which I will: Blade Runner 2049, last October, was my 5,000th new movie since I graduated college. As of Tuesday, I’ve crossed 5,800. I was also at 100 movies for 2018 in April’s reviews article. Now I’m at 260. I started this year seven weeks late and I’m currently seven weeks ahead of last year’s pace. Go figure.)
In terms of 2018 as a movie year, it’s pretty much been a giant dumpster fire. I’ve hated every year of the past few pretty much up through this point (since almost all the good movies come out between September and December), but this year in particular has a very special kind of diarrhetic quality to it that makes it stick out. I can’t think of a weaker year in the last ten.
To put a finer point on it: while I disliked previous years through the summer, last year I’d already banked what would become two top ten films and three 11-20 films. 2016, I had four top ten films and two 11-20 films. 2015, three top ten films… you get the point. This year, there’s only one film I’d even consider letting near my top ten, and if it does end up making it, it would be pretty historic (more on that later). At best, everything else I’ve liked so far is at best tier two in any other year.
So, yeah, spoiler alert, this year sucks, and my thoughts on most things are pretty much, “It’s just fine” or “I don’t care.” There’s so little that stands out, the final quarter of the year better be really good, otherwise we’re looking at the weakest overall year in almost thirty.
But hey, at least you can all read what I thought about Book Club, right?
7 Days in Entebbe — * * * (3 stars)
Entebbe is one of those events you read about and go, “That’s a movie.” And I think they’ve made it two or three times now… and the result is never all that interesting. This is a perfectly serviceable thriller, but not something anyone is particularly excited about watching. You see it and you go, “Yeah, that was fine,” or, “That was boring.” It’s pretty much one or the other. It’s just serviceable filmmaking all around. Not great, not terrible. Just is.
211 — * * * (3 stars)
Another VOD Nicolas Cage thriller. There was a point this year where he had a VOD movie come out for every month of the year. That’s who he is now. And you know what? I’ll keep watching them. At this point they range from “Disinterested Cage” to “Neutral Cage” to “Batshit crazy Cage.” Unfortunately the last option is becoming rarer and rarer and the former is all too common. Fortunately, this one is Neutral Cage. He’s not particularly invested, but the movie moves at a quick enough pace and is interesting enough to have him not completely be on autopilot. It’s about a bank robbery and hostage standoff. And he plays one of the cops there. So it’s another one of those movies where they can cut around him and he can come in for three days and do his job for another IRS check. Of the recent handful of Cage VOD movies (Arsenal, Vengeance: A Love Story, Inconceivable, Mom and Dad, The Humanity Bureau, Looking Glass and this)… most of which I’m sure you have no idea about, and all of which came out between last January and now… the only one I could recommend is Mom and Dad, because at least it’s batshit crazy and he gets to chew it up. The rest are varying degrees of not interesting to bad. Arsenal I enjoy because he’s basically doing the same performance from Deadfall 25 years earlier for like, no reason, and this one is the only one I’d say is kinda watchable. The rest are boring or straight up bad. (Though he does have Mandy coming out in a few weeks… that looks like the proper Cage movie we need in our lives.) Where have you gone, Nicolas Cage?
Action Point — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Johnny Knoxville movie that’s 60% plot, but that 60% is just an excuse to get to the other 40%, which is just gags. So you’ll have a plot about him having this borderline criminal park (with shitty slides held together by duct tape) and trying to keep it open and then randomly stop to have him get punched in the nuts or fall off something or get bit by a wild animal. Very weird movie, tonally. It doesn’t work at all, either. I’m not sure what the point of it all was. If you wanna do Jackass, just make another Jackass movie. What’s this pretending to be a narrative shit?
Adrift — * * * (3 stars)
Shailene Woodley gets stranded out on the ocean. It’s All Is Lost but with a couple… and less interesting. Having someone out on the ocean is always at least remotely interesting. And Shailene does deliver a solid performance… but it doesn’t amount to anything other than ‘okay’. The director made Everest, which was also decent but unspectacular. Maybe a director with more of a visual style could have made something that’ll last longer, but as it stands, we have a decent movie that will be forgotten within a year. Could be better, but also I’ve seen much worse from this year alone. So it’s just fine.
The After Party — * * * (3 stars)
This one started off pretty shaky… we all know how much I hate films where social media is an active component. Plus you saw the inciting incident coming from a mile away. Plus the characters were all either wildly over the top or way too subdued. BUT… it had some charm to it. There were moments where I laughed. That cameo at the strip club came out of nowhere, and maybe I’m predisposed to it, but I laughed. It’s a decent enough movie. Plays by the rules of the 90s buddy comedy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It had more charm than cliche for me, which was nice.
Alex Strangelove — * * * (3 stars)
Netflix movie about a guy with a longterm girlfriend who is afraid to have sex with her. Because, as it turns out, he starts to have a crush on another boy. So it’s a coming-of-identity film. Not terrible, not great. Had enough moments to make me give it a minor thumbs up, but overall not something I’d recommend that much. There are better Netflix films out there, two of which are in this article with the same lead actor.
Alpha — * * * (3 stars)
I remember seeing the first trailer for this last summer. The entire theater laughed. Because it’s a movie about a boy and a wolf that’s meant to show you how we got dogs. Which is objectively ridiculous. And yet… reviews for this were good, now that it’s finally come out, a year later. The movie itself is just okay. It’s nothing you haven’t seen, and there’s really nothing revelatory about it. The fact that there’s no dialogue for like, an hour, is cool. But otherwise, it’s just watchable at best. Go watch Never Cry Wolf or White Fang instead.
American Animals — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I became interested in this when I heard it was getting good reviews. Before that it was just another random movie. I heard it was well-made and it was being talked about in the right places. And they’re right. This is a really well-done heist movie. They take an interesting approach to it, telling it docudrama style. Remember how I, Tonya had “interviews” with the characters? Well, this movie does that, but with the real people. The real people do interviews, and it’s intercut with the actors and the story. It’s well done. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s a really strongly directed film, and manages to be more engaging than just another movie. The interviews with the real people actually work to the film’s advantage, since the story itself wouldn’t have held up as a film. It needs the contradictions of the guys to add to the unreliability of the story. Overall, solid film. Nice little hidden gem.
Anchors Up — * * (2 stars)
I had to. After CarGo last year, I saw a movie from the same company about boats and had to watch it. It’s just so cheaply made and so creepy looking. I just don’t understand how these things get made. But goddamn are they the stuff of a bad acid trip. I’m glad that I can say that I saw this, because now I can truly make fun of it. Also, even better? It’s a Norwegian movie. They just dubbed it in English… just like they do with the Ghibli movies.
Anon — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Andrew Niccol is always good for a great sci fi premise. Whether or not the film works is another matter. S1m0ne… not so much. In Time, great premise, so-so movie. Gattaca, great. This is a solid premise and a fairly solid movie. It’s about a world where all information about all people is public, and there is no privacy. However, someone has managed to hide themselves from the system and is murdering people. So Clive Owen, lead detective, has to go find the killer. And in doing so, he meets Amanda Seyfried, a hacker who is not in the system. It’s a solid movie. Not amazing, but it’s a good watch, and as far as Netflix movies go, it’s one of the better ones. It’s close to a return to form for Niccol, who has been under the radar for the most part this decade.
Ant-Man and the Wasp — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
After the overblown Infinity War, this is a nice change of pace. It’s a simple, contained, 95% MCU free movie that is just a good time. Global stakes are low, emotional stakes are pretty solid, and it’s basically just a comedy with some action interspersed throughout. I like the detour that is Ant-Man. This movie did a good job on a character level, while also being very funny throughout. This franchise within the universe is consistently one of the stronger Marvel franchises.
Arizona — * * * (3 stars)
Well, this is a dark comedy. Doesn’t fully work, but it was a nice shot. It’s about the housing crisis, and the ends people have to turn to because they’re gonna lose their houses. Of course, this movie just wantonly kills people left and right, and it feels like it’s more for the amusement of the movie than for any real reason. At least in the Coen brothers comedies, when people die, it serves some sort of purpose. Here, it becomes a joke that everyone ends up dead. But it was fine. The kind of movie I’d have watched on cable one day and been perfectly okay with. Never gonna begrudge a movie like that.
A.X.L. — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
In the vein of Monster Trucks, this is one of those movies they’d have made in the 80s and 90s that is so completely out of style now you wonder why they made it. I assume this was made for the foreign markets. It’s basically Short Circuit but with a robotic dog. Wasn’t for me. I doubt most people even know this exists, even though it came out last week in a fair amount of theaters. Don’t worry, you don’t ever really need to know what this is.
Bad Samaritan — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I expected a forgettable, generic thriller and found myself very pleasantly surprised by this one. Directed by Dean Devlin, who produced Independence Day and just directed Geostorm. So you can see why I was expecting what I was expecting. Here’s the premise, and you can tell me if it sounds interesting or not: wannabe photographer who works as a valet makes money taking people’s cars when they come to the restaurant, driving to their homes and robbing them, then bringing their car back once they’re done with their meal. One night, he drives to a guy’s house and discovers he has a woman chained up inside and has abducted her. Pretty soon, he’s caught in this guy’s web and has to figure out how to save the girl before this guy systematically destroys his life. Not a bad premise, right? It’s actually engaging! I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed this. No promises that it’s an amazing piece of cinema, but seeing people rave about horror movies that I can’t even get through, I feel like I can talk this one up a bit. It definitely surprised me for the better.
Beirut — * * * (3 stars)
The second generic thriller starring Rosamund Pike from the first half of 2018. This one stars Jon Hamm and was written by Tony Gilroy, which at least makes it marginally interesting. Still, it doesn’t add up to anything and struggles with telling an interesting story and incorporating a lot of factual historical elements. A lot of movies struggle from this and can’t overcome it. This is one of those. There’s a reason Gilroy only wrote it and didn’t direct. It’s just okay. Hamm could be utilized better, even though there is theoretically a nice role for him in this.
Best F(r)iends: Volume 2 — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I love that I’ve seen both parts of this film in theaters and most people don’t even know it exists and/or haven’t even seen the first one yet. I believe the first one is out on VOD in the next month, not that anyone will see it. As a refresher, it is a Tommy Wiseau/Greg Sestero movie, written by Greg. Tommy plays an undertaker who picks up Greg, who is first seen homeless and covered in blood, and the two of them embark on a friendship that includes selling pieces of gold for profit and getting into some shady stuff with some questionable characters. This is the continuation of the film, which, unbeknownst to me when I attended the world premiere, ended with a literal cliffhanger and proudly announced that it was PART 1 of the entire story. At the time, that got the biggest laugh of the night, and was a nice thing to try to keep for people to discover. But the fact that they’re blatantly titled Volumes 1 and 2 kind of eliminates that. Not that anyone watches a Tommy Wiseau movie for the plot. But this one… this one doesn’t have Tommy on screen for a good hour. Well… not really. I’ll leave you to discover how he appears for the first half of the film. But it’s all Greg and a full on story. It’s… almost watchable… like, as a regular movie… for a good portion. After a while you’re watching it and wondering, “Why the fuck am I following this story?” You catch yourself actually paying attention to it. It’s weird. But it requires the first half to really work. And I have no idea how this plays not in a theater with people. Since the first one I saw in a packed house as part of a double feature with The Room. This second one I saw in a theater with about fourteen other people on its opening night. I’m curious for people to see any part of this. Because the only value is camp value.
Billionaire Boys Club — * * * (3 stars)
This was supposed to come out this time last year… then the Kevin Spacey stuff happened. I’m surprised they released it. Not that it affects anything in regard to the quality of the film, but I am definitely surprised this was put into a single theater. That said — it’s fine. It’s trying to be one of those Wolf of Wall Street, Boiler Room, what have you kind of movies, where they glorify the criminal rise, show the spoils of the riches, and then the fall. That’s it. You have Ansel Elgort and Taron Egerton as the main two guys. Spacey is solid as he usually is. Really, the part that amused the hell out of me was the brief, one-scene cameo by Cary Elwes as Andy Warhol. THAT was fun. The rest of the movie — just okay. Nothing you haven’t seen before.
Billy Boy — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Written by Blake Jenner and starring Blake Jenner. Which probably answers all of my questions. He clearly wrote it as a showcase to a different side of himself that hasn’t been seen on screen before. But what we got was a pretty boring, by-the-numbers indie that treads all the same ground you’ve seen before, without any real dramatic weight to it whatsoever. Shit happens.
BlacKkKlansman — * * * * (4 stars)
I had no expectations for this until I saw a trailer. Because Spike… the last decade… I haven’t really liked any of the movies. And I love Spike. But once I saw a trailer for this, I was immediately sold. I saw what he was doing, and I knew this was gonna be his best movie since Inside Man. (I did like Chi-Raq, though.) And honestly, this might be his best movie since 25th Hour. I had more fun in this movie than I have in a lot of movies this year. He goes all out. There’s a musical number here, the scenes are funny but not overly so, and then he doesn’t spend time preaching to the audience. He uses the comedy to get the message across, and then he stops it completely short at the very end and ends the laughs on a dime. I think the way he handled that was incredible. Get everyone laughing and on your side, regardless of race, political affiliation, whatever, and then just completely pull the rug out. The theater I was in for this went silent, which was the intent. I think the films that define Spike Lee’s career are Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, 25th Hour, and now this. The others — and there are a lot of good ones — are all secondary to those. I like so much about this film. At the moment, this is my favorite (non-documentary) film of the year. We’ll see if that holds up, but this movie made me smile all the way through, and was the best time I had in a movie this year.
Blindspotting — * * * * (4 stars)
I knew this made a splash out of Sundance, and I saw the trailer like ten days before the movie came out. It looked serious as hell and I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted a movie like this. But then I watched it. And it’s… not that. It’s a straight up buddy comedy. Straight up. I think the best example was the logline I found for it back in January, which was something like, “A buddy comedy in a world that won’t let it be one.” This movie wants to be a comedy, but the seriousness of police brutality and institutional racism against people of color prevent it from being that. I also like that they have the white guy be the violent one and also be the one that somehow keeps getting away with all the shit, meanwhile the convicted felon black character didn’t really do anything wrong to warrant now being labeled a felon for the rest of his life. This is a great movie. And there are currently three very good movies that deal with race this year, which are all terrific in their own way. And I’m not somebody who necessarily wants movies to be political. Usually I get turned off when they’re serving a message more than serving entertainment (especially when I’m around people who all they want are movies of some importance and scoff when movies just wanna have a good time). But I thought this movie handled that really, really well. And I’m all for movies that manage to tell a great story first and also be completely about relaying a message reflective of our times. This is already one of the best, most underrated movies of 2018.
Blue Iguana — * * * (3 stars)
Throwback heist movie. Colorful characters, fun kind of tone… this is the kind of movie I grew up watching in the 90s. This is what that movie Terminal wanted to be. Not gonna say it’s a good movie by any stretch, but this is the kind of movie I’m all about. Remember when you were like, 15, and you saw Pulp Fiction and then started watching all those cheap knockoffs of it? This is entirely in that vein. Fun, inconsequential, and has some actors you like in it (namely Sam Rockwell).
Book Club — * * * (3 stars)
The plot sounded ridiculous when I first heard about it… and it’s pretty much that. Older women read Fifty Shades together. The only reason to see this is because Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen are in it. And I guess you also get the bonus of Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Ed Begley Jr. and Richard Dreyfuss too. It’s not good, but it’s nice to see them all, so I was fine with it.
The Bookshop — * * * (3 stars)
It’s like Chocolat but with books. Though less whimsical. It’s fine. Emily Mortimer is always nice to see in things.
Breaking In — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
James McTiegue directed this. He directed V for Vendetta. This is where he’s at now. It’s your standard ‘trapped in the house with people trying to get in’ movie. Not good. Utterly generic. Purely made for black audiences. The kind of movie designed for the opening weekend and not much else. Pure filler.
Breath — * * * (3 stars)
Australian surfing movie directed by Simon Baker. More coming of age than anything. It’s fine. I didn’t love it, but it was watchable.
Broken Star — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Psychological thriller. Didn’t do it for me. I like Analeigh Tipton, but the movie just wasn’t appealing to me. It’s like trying to build a sandcastle with wet sand. You’re just piling mud on top of itself. Nothing confirms into an interesting narrative.
Calibre — * * * (3 stars)
I had to look this one up to remember what it was about. That should tell you everything you need to know about it. It was actually okay. The title is just generic. It’s about two friends on a hunting trip in the Scottish Highlands, and something goes wrong. It’s a slow burn of a thriller, and I’m sure other people will like this more than I did. I got too hung up on the slow part. I couldn’t get into it.
Cargo — * * * (3 stars)
Expanded from a short. Good premise. Guy taking his daughter to safety in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. It’s a decent enough movie. Not great. Probably better as the original short, but a watchable movie. Fair, as Netflix movies go. Not bad, but not one of the truly better ones.
The Catcher Was a Spy — * * * (3 stars)
I remember when the book came out. It was made to be a movie. Baseball catcher who was secretly a spy for the government. Great premise. Then they cast it and Paul Rudd was the catcher. Cool. But then the movie got made — with the director of The Sessions, no less — and was absolutely buried on VOD. Because it just doesn’t work. Maybe it was the writing, maybe it was the tone… it just falls completely flat on every level. I’m not really sure who to blame about this one. The premise was solid… movie just didn’t work.
Chappaquiddick — * * * (3 stars)
I was kind of excited about this. John Curran is a solid director, and I liked the idea that they were making a movie about the event that derailed Ted Kennedy’s political career. Problem is… movie’s not that interesting. Looks good, and the cast is nice… but it doesn’t amount to much. You can get everything you need to know out of the trailer. Shit goes down, they wait a day before reporting it, and the facts are murky because no one really knows what went on or how the girl ended up dead. It certainly seemed like more could be done and that there was a family coverup going on for something. I don’t know. This didn’t do it for me. Very slow, felt like a well-cast TV movie. Just okay.
Christopher Robin — * * * (3 stars)
I loved the premise. Hook but with Winnie the Pooh. Christoper Robin grows up and Pooh and friends come to his aid to remind him of the simple pleasures of make believe. Could have been great. It’s just… okay. Doesn’t really work. Shame, but I’m not overly surprised. Disney doesn’t really take risks with their major properties. Oh well. Maybe next time.
The Con Is On — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
One of those movies where… I saw the cast, had the time, and figured, “What the hell?” Turns out, I didn’t need to waste my time. It’s Tim Roth and Uma Thurman in a con artist movie. Now, if this movie came out in 1997, and I discovered it when I was 17, the thought of that might have appealed to me. Here, I saw that and went, “Oh man, this is gonna be terrible, isn’t it?” And I was right. Please don’t ever watch this movie. Don’t give in to the casting trick. That’s what they want.
Con Man — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This is about a real life con man. But like, one you’ve never heard of. This is the Gotti of con men movies. Not really very good at all, and taking itself way too seriously. One of those movies I watched because it was a light weekend without much else out there and I had time to kill. Wasn’t worth it.
Crazy Rich Asians — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
It’s fun. Not the greatest movie ever made, but it has its charm. And while my actual feelings for it are more toward a 3.25, the extra bump to 3.5 is because Asians are grossly underrepresented in films, more so than any other race other than Native American. Which is a whole other deal that has to invoke history and another genre. The Asian thing I still don’t understand. This is… it’s not historical, but the fact that this came out, with an all-Asian cast, and was good, and made a bunch of money… that’s a big deal in 2018. I’m glad this movie exists. Unfortunately it will be looked at as an outlier and not a trend, and Hollywood will proceed to take the exact wrong message from this movie’s success, but you have to start somewhere, and hopefully this is the start of real change.
The Cured — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Boring as fuck. Interesting enough premise… zombie apocalypse happens, and they find a cure. So they’re able to turn a lot of the zombies back to humans. But they’re treated differently and are discriminated against… all that shit. Fair enough. This movie? Did not utilize that premise as well as it could have. Not something I’d recommend.
Damascus Cover — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Completely generic spy thriller that I only watched because it was John Hurt’s final film. Otherwise, no real reason for anyone to see this.
Dark Crimes — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This movie is NUTS. First off… on the shelf for two whole years. So there’s that. I remember Jim Carrey coming out to present something at the Golden Globes in 2017 and they announced this as his next movie. (Of course, I’m the only one who pays attention to that sort of thing and recognized what film they meant at the time, but they did do it.) And here were are, in 2018, with this being quietly dumped on VOD in May to absolutely zero fanfare. The real reason this is so interesting to me… Jim Carrey plays a Czech detective. And it’s… deadly serious. There’s no comedy here whatsoever. He’s a detective who notices similarities between a cold case murder and the description of a murder in a best-selling book. For those going to see this because Jim Carrey is in it… be warned. It’s serious to the point of “holy shit.” I can’t believe this got made as a movie, let alone a movie starring Jim Carrey. By the time I was left with the final image, my mouth was practically agape, wondering how we got this. So maybe that’s a positive review?
The Darkest Minds — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
YA bullshit. Dystopian future, virus, kids in camps, separated by groups, fighting against the oppressive government. It’s all the formula told a different way. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Deadpool 2 — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
The first one was so much fun it quickly became way overrated. This one, while very self-aware, did decide to go in a very different direction, for which I applaud it. That said… more of the same. Wasn’t overly invested in the plot. It felt like some of the movie built up for that one gag of everyone dying (which was so obvious in the moment that I’m surprised they spent as long as they did setting up for it). It doesn’t work as well as the first one, but it’s a fun sequel. I can’t say I expected this to be as good as the first one, but it did fall solely in line with my expectations for it. This feels like the kind of sequel you’d get for a Deadpool movie. And considering it made a shit ton of money, there will be a third one, and they’ll have a chance to do great things or just continue diluting what they have. Oh, and some of the smartest and funniest jokes in this movie happen during the end credits. Which I guess is a good thing, since you needed the rest of the film for them to work as well as they do.
Disobedience — * * * (3 stars)
This is a lesbian romance with Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz. So there’s that. Oh, and directed by the guy who did A Fantastic Woman. It’s set in the orthodox Jewish world, so it’s all about their forbidden fling when they were younger and the culmination of their feelings now that they’re back in each other’s lives. It’s not great, but I guess other people could get more out of it than I did. I… orthodox Judaism is difficult for me to watch on screen. It probably has to do with my childhood and seeing a lot of it up close (not in the family, just, in the neighborhood and such). It’s just not something that appeals to me on screen, so I wasn’t really invested in a lot that happened here. There’s girl on girl stuff, though, so I guess that’s gonna get some people, right?
Distorted — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Terrible VOD movie that I only say because it was Christina Ricci and John Cusack. I figured maybe it could be watchable. No. Not at all. One of those “is she crazy or is something going on” films. Clearly, you know where it’s going. Don’t worry, no one ever needs to see this, nor should they.
Down a Dark Hall — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Generic movie based on a YA book. I saw the cast had names I recognized and figured why not. Turns out… I realized pretty quickly why not. Pretty generic. Pretty boring. Fortunately the YA craze is basically dead now, and there are a few that come out DOA, if they come out at all (anyone remember Fallen?). The Darkest Minds is the one that got a theatrical. This doesn’t even qualify as the one that went VOD. This went like, sub-VOD. At least some VOD movies you hear about.
Duck Butter — * * * (3 stars)
You might know what this is because the title is so unique. It’s directed by Miguel Arteta, who I know some people are all about. Most people might not recognize the name, but would know his recent films. He did Cedar Rapids, and Youth in Revolt, and Beatriz at Dinner last year. I’m not the biggest fan. But the premise is something that I’m sure some people will be all over: two women hook up and decide, as a relationship test, to have sex, every hour on the hour, for a full day. And that’s the movie. Of course there’s indie comedy tropes throughout (some of which are cringeworthy to me), and there’s emotional shit that’s unveiled throughout. It doesn’t really work for me, but as far as Arteta’s films go, I liked this better than most of his other stuff. So there’s that.
Duck Duck Goose — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This looked so bad I had to see it. This isn’t Z grade animated fare, but it’s like… D? A single goose flying south for the winter comes across two ducklings separated from their flock. So of course the bachelor now has to care for children! Hilarity ensues! It’s so bad. And the characters all have Chinese names, because that’s the market this was made for. Even the budget movies are going for that coin. Also Zendaya voices one of the ducks. Very, very strange movie. (But yes, duck, duck, goose… also the three main characters of the movie. And if there is one thing I will never begrudge, it’s a title like that.)
Eighth Grade — * * * * (4 stars)
This wasn’t on my radar at all until I saw the trailer. And I thought, “Oh, this actually looks sure-handed.” I know of Bo Burnham. I think someone tried to show me one of his specials once. And from what I remember it was fine. But I really didn’t know anything about him other than that he was a Twitter-era comedian. He seems to be what Dane Cook was for all the people in high school with me. (I say this knowing how many people would quote the shit out of Dane Cook in high school and knowing nothing about Bo Burnham’s actual popularity.) So I wasn’t really expecting much. But the trailer did intrigue me. And I went to see this in theaters and was properly surprised and delighted by this movie. Sure, it has way too many internet meme references and social network uses, but that’s youth today. You can’t not include that stuff. The girl is taking selfies and doing videos of her life. That’s what being a kid is like now, it seems. But beyond all that, this had a lot of great moments about what it was like to be in middle school. I think we all, in some way or another, related to that part where she goes to the pool party for the girl who doesn’t want her there, where she knows absolutely no one there, and wants to leave almost immediately. That’s the stuff that made it feel authentic. The rest I can only attribute to 2018 youth culture. (Though there is the one questionable moment in the car about 75% of the way through the film. I get why it’s there, but it didn’t feel like it matched the tone of the rest of the movie.) Still, I liked this. Not sure how this holds up over time, but in the initial viewing, I liked this movie quite a bit. Which is really all you can ask for.
The Endless — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This is by the guys who did Spring, a movie that I love that I maintain is one of the most underrated movies of the past decade. It’s the one I call “Before Sunrise with sea monsters,” which is a romance in Italy where the girl just happens to turn into primordial monsters sometimes. It’s really great. So I was interested to see what they had to follow it up. Turns out, this is a pseudo-sequel to a movie they made some years ago. Not that you need to have seen it to get this. Here’s the premise: these guys escaped a UFO death cult ten years prior. One is struggling to keep them afloat on their own and the other is still in deprogramming therapy, pretty much still missing everything they had when they were back in the cult. To placate him, the other one says they’ll go back for one day. So they go, and sort of get swept back up in the cult… but not in the way you’d expect. It takes a couple of weird turns, and by the end it gets really heady, at least logically. It’s kind of confusing, but once you get what’s going on, you can mostly make sense of it. It’s really engaging, though. I think this is a movie people should check out, because it’s one of those where, even if you don’t like it, it was worth having seen it.
The Equalizer 2 — * * * (3 stars)
This is a franchise based on Denzel Washington beating the shit out of people. Franchises were made on less. This is his Taken. You know what you’re getting, and it’s perfectly entertaining. Can’t ask for much more than that.
The Escape — * * * (3 stars)
Seemed interesting from the trailer… Gemma Arterton is an unhappy housewife who just chooses to up and leave her family one day. I thought this could go interesting places. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Shit happens.
Escape Plan II: Hades — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Didn’t we say all we needed to say with the first Escape Plan? What makes this one fascinating… it’s not good, so don’t bother reading the rest of the review if you’re looking to know if this is worth your time… what was most fascinating to me about this is how they clearly pulled that VOD, “shoot around the star” thing they do with Bruce Willis in his paycheck movies. Stallone is not in the movie for the first like, 60%, and clearly only worked like four days on it, despite I’m sure receiving a multi-million dollar paycheck for this movie. This is the new norm for these movies now. Crazy that this is an entire market. Are we gonna study these movies the way we study the B movies of the 40s or the drive-in movies of the 50s? Insane.
Euphoria — * * * (3 stars)
Alicia Vikander and Eva Green are sisters. Green is terminal and brings Vikander to a hospital in the middle of nowhere where she plans to be euthanized. So they have to work out all their shit in the meantime. Charlotte Rampling plays the head of the hospital. It’s… boring and dramatic. But I like both leads, so I saw it for them.
Every Day — * * * (3 stars)
Good premise. Not without its issues, of course, but intellectually intriguing enough to make me give the movie a shot. It’s about a person who wakes up in the body of a different person every day. All within the same general area. They’re that person for that day, and then the next day it’s a new person, with the previous person not really remembering what they did the day before. Things get complicated when the person falls in love with a girl. It’s… YA stuff. But I like the premise, and that held me through what was otherwise a so-so movie.
Extinction — * * * (3 stars)
Netflix sci fi movie. I was intrigued because it was directed by the guy who did Hounds of Love, which was quite good. This, though… pretty incoherent and all over the place. And it takes the weird fucking turn midway through that made me care even less about it. I’m not sure what the point of any of it was. Whatever. Not gonna dwell on the Netflix movie. There are 30 more where this one came from.
Fahrenheit 451 — * * * (3 stars)
This as an HBO movie makes sense. Because… movies based on books like this… never work. Because you know the stories so well, and the movies never reveal anything you didn’t already know. This one especially… it’s better on the page. But as a TV movie… I can go along with it. That said… not good. Michael Shannon and Michael B. Jordan do what they can to make it interesting, but it just is flat all around. At least the expectations aren’t high for a TV movie, so it’s perfectly adequate as far as that goes.
Father of the Year — * * (2 stars)
This is a Happy Madison film. Starring David Spade. Need I say more? Of course it’s dog shit. It’s everything a bad comedy is nowadays. I don’t even know why I need to write anything more about it. You know what it is. It says a lot about a person if this is the kind of comedy they enjoy.
The Feels — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I watched it for the premise: lesbian couple about to get married when one of them admits she’s never had an orgasm. Ultimately it was just another indie. A bunch of people in a house going through some shit. Didn’t do anything for me. Was worth the shot, but it didn’t do anything for me.
Finding Your Feet — * * * (3 stars)
British ensemble about a group of sixty-somethings who all take a dance class and become revitalized by it. It’s perfectly innocuous and fun. Not substantial in any way, but some people will enjoy it.
The First Purge — * * * (3 stars)
I… I enjoy this franchise. I’ve always been perfectly entertained by these films. What is this, the fourth one? Feels like the fourth one. I like that they finally made a prequel, since it’s a natural progression for them. Also hilarious that in this dystopian future, they chose Staten Island to be the site of the first Purge. That felt really appropriate. Also, one of the greatest scenes in a movie this year is where they’re in their control room, watching the monitors during the first few hours, and someone goes, “There’s nothing happening.” And then they go, “Look at this… some kind of block party.” Which is possibly the most accurate thing someone’s said in a movie. This franchise never disappoints.
First Reformed — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Gonna be totally honest — I loved hearing art film people talk about how great this was gonna be when they saw the reviews and how much they loved Paul Schrader, even though I guarantee that not a single one of them could name five movies that he directed. Because while Paul Schrader wrote a lot of great movies… the ones he directed are by and large just okay at best. Still, I heard good things, so I was expecting a solid movie. Which I got. Looks great. I like that he shot it in old Academy ratio, and Ethan Hawke delivers a solid, quiet performance. Can’t say I loved the film, but it’s fine. Fine-plus, maybe. I thought ultimately it was too slow, too quiet and didn’t really amount to all that much. Taxi Driver is a slow burn with an actual burn at the end. This is a slow burn and the candle wick just sort of falls off before anything interesting happens. I’m sure this will appeal to certain other people more than it did me. So I’ll leave it to those people. I’ll go talk about the shit I’m interested in instead.
Flower — * * * (3 stars)
Well this was a weird movie. Directed by Henry Winkler’s son. I can’t quite explain it? Girl gives blowjobs with the intent of blackmailing the men into giving her enough money to leave town. Could have worked in the right era. Or maybe the right tone? This doesn’t fully work. But it’s weird enough that I was okay with it the one time.
Future World — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Please don’t anybody watch this movie. This movie is what you get if your pretentious film major friend made his version of Mad Max. It was also co-directed by James Franco, so…
Gemini — * * * (3 stars)
Pure A24 movie. Hollywood assistant goes to her boss’s house to find her dead. And she certainly looks like the primary suspect. It’s… they took a paper thin story and put visuals on it (like I said, pure A24 movie), so it looks nice. Otherwise there is no point to any of this, and when you get to the ending (which you can see coming a mile away), you realize you just wasted 90 minute and got absolutely nothing out of that movie. A24 usually makes cool shit, but not all of them work. This is one of the ones that doesn’t.
Gotti — * * * (3 stars)
I honestly have no idea why John Travolta was attached to this movie for almost a decade. What did he see in the source material that made him say, “I have to play this”? This had like, real people attached to it for a while. And now E from Entourage directed it. They pulled this from a VOD release in December because they felt it deserved a theatrical release. How’d that one work out for them? I think this is still running a cool 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, and things were so bad the studio paid people to make fake accounts to say something nice about it. In fairness, it doesn’t deserve a zero, but let’s not pretend like this isn’t anything other than a bad movie you watch because it’s bad. I can’t point to a single redeeming thing about this movie, and yet… it was kind of like watching a car wreck?
Gringo— * * * (3 stars)
I like these kinds of movies, but this one didn’t fully work. Pure 3-star cable/Netflix watch, but I don’t think the movie works as well as it should, tonally. Really good cast, but the movie just doesn’t work. Oh well.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society — * * * (3 stars)
This could legit be a real British thing and Americans would have no idea. Like, “Hmm, potato peel pie… is that what they make over there?” This is one of those ensemble films. There’s always one big British one every year. This is 2018’s. Not as good as Their Finest from last year, but still enjoyable.
The Happytime Murders — * * * (3 stars)
This… I wish it had worked. It doesn’t, but I can’t quite pinpoint the reason. The reason I’ve been telling people as to why I don’t think it works is because it’s trying to both be a straight detective mystery and also have raunchy puppet jokes. And the mystery, which is a majority of the film… the story’s not quite all there. So there’s no intrigue to that part, so you’re left either wanting more puppet raunch to make up for the lack of story or a better story, which wouldn’t necessarily require the puppet raunch. I don’t know. Something about this doesn’t quite work, which sucks because I think it was a really smart area to make a film. But better to have tried.
Hereditary — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Just gonna start with this… I laughed. I know people came out and said this was one of the scariest movies they’d seen, and how they shit their pants during it… even before that became the trendy thing to say about it because that’s what the narrative became. But I laughed. That moment near the end, when the kid wakes up and the camera lingers and you just know what’s going on… I couldn’t stop laughing. I thought this movie was an unintentional comedy. The first half set things up really well. The sequence where he’s driving home from the party with the sister.. fantastically crafted. Everything after that (well… the aftermath was shot really well… but everything after the time jump) fell apart. You just knew where everything was going. Instead of taking a lot of intriguing paths that it had set up visually (with the models and stuff), it took the easiest, least interesting route. The final ten minutes of this movie are fucking ridiculous. This movie started so well, and just could not sustain it. It is also a comedy. Watch it again as a comedy… the scenes where Toni Collete is screaming at the family… they’re funny. Maybe it requires a sick sense of humor to laugh at them, but they’re funny. (Also… “It’s written in some kind of language, but whatever, just read it, it’s fine.”) I will also say that the clicking of the tongue is a nice creepy horror motif as well. But as I said, the first half (or maybe it’s not even the first half… everything until Ann Dowd and the obvious Rosemary’s Baby scenario show up) really is quite great. If only they took a better route from there I might have been more favorable on it. As it stands, I’ll give it the 3.5 just because I was engaged throughout a lot of it and it looked great, but man, did this go hilariously wrong by the end.
Hope Springs Eternal — * * * (3 stars)
An under-80 minute film starring Peter Frampton’s daughter with one of the great un-utilized premises out there (I’ve seen scripts and books use this, but no one’s successfully used it in a film before): girl with cancer who is dying suddenly finds herself in remission, so now she has to undo all the shit she did and took advantage of while she was dying. This… is really just about her learning to not be a bitch. The problem is, she’s actually more of a bitch after she’s in remission, continuing to lie about it. The real way would have been to have her do horrible shit while dying, thinking nothing could happen to her, and then having to fix it all when she’s not. But hey, at least we have the premise. The movie is marginally interesting, but had it gone on any longer it might have dropped below a 3.
Hot Summer Nights — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I’ve been excited for this movie for five years. I read the script and thought it was great. Then they shot it and it sat on a shelf for two years and I figured it wasn’t gonna be that good. Plus, A24 picked it up to basically dump it on VOD before putting it in a few theaters… I was worried. But honestly, I liked it. I was entirely biased toward it, but it was fun. Mostly what was in the script, save for a change of narrator (which I thought was probably for the better, but it’s also been years since I read the script) and the ending, which felt like it was gonna happen no matter how they made the movie. That one I’m not entirely sure about, then again I wasn’t entirely sure about the original ending either. Still, I like that it was wall-to-wall 80s music, had Timothee Chalamet and Maika Monroe in it (quite the pull to get Chalamet before he was in everything and blew up), and was close enough to what I saw in the script to make me like it.
Hotel Artemis — * * * (3 stars)
Completely insane and incomprehensible on every level… but I like these movies. This is that cable movie I always talk about. The kind I’d just watch when I was growing up that I have a special affinity for. All for it. Go nuts. Give me this any day over a lot of the other bullshit out there.
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I’ve seen three of these movies. And you know what? It’s growing on me as a franchise. Not that I like anything about it. It’s not for me at all. But you know what? They’re dumb and innocuous and for kids. I’m fine with that. You could do worse for animated films (and trust me, I’ve watched a lot of them). If this is a “bad” example of a mainstream animated film, we’re doing okay. Because trust me… it gets way worse than this.
The House of Tomorrow — * * * (3 stars)
Weird movie. Not for me.
How It Ends — * * * (3 stars)
Post-apocalyptic Netflix movie. That seems to be one of their go-to genres. They must have some data that says people like these. But of all the ones from this year, this is one of the more solid ones. It’s grounded in the sense that whatever happened just happened, and it’s about people dealing with the immediate fallout and driving across the country to get to their loved ones. So it’s more about the lawlessness of the roads than about the event itself. Which is cool. There’s an underseen Ray Milland movie called Panic in Year Zero which is very similar. Though that’s about a family trying to survive. This is a man and his future father-in-law traveling to get to his fiancée. Still… cable watch. It’ll get you through two hours.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties — * * * (3 stars)
Weird fucking movie. But based on a Neil Gaiman story, so I guess that makes sense. Elle Fanning is an alien who is gonna complete some sort of weird ritual where she’s gonna leave her body? I have no fucking idea what that’s about. But then there’s punk rock involved? And Nicole Kidman is a punk rock queen? I will admit, I was never a fan of her as an actress until very recently, but I like that she takes these weird, cool parts and gives her all to them. She seems like the kind of actress who digs into a role and doesn’t use her status to be the center of attention. She’s one of the standouts of this movie. And Fanning is good too, especially since I’ve considered her a bit bland in most everything else I’ve seen her in. It’s a weird movie, but the weirdness helped me remember it better than some other movies, so that’s good, I guess.
I Feel Pretty — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Yeah… (I mean, we all saw this coming.) Amy Schumer has been in four movies so far. Trainwreck is by far the most watchable of the bunch, even though I don’t think it’s all that great. Snatched is just an abomination of a movie that should be forgotten about sooner than possible. Thank You for Your Service… she’s a supporting part and does dramatic. Not a great movie, but fine. And then there’s this… which is also pretty terrible and probably offensive on a lot of levels. I’m trying hard not to say this movie isn’t an automatic Unforgivable… but come on. You knew from the premise this one had a first class ticket. The only good thing I can point out about this movie is that person who recorded Greta Gerwig going to see it in theaters.
Ibiza — * * (2 stars)
The Netflix movie is a bit of a mixed bag. They’re coming around on solid rom coms. Usually they’re generic sci fi movies or thrillers. Occasionally something will be cool. But by and large, they’re just kind of “ehh.” And then there’s that one comedy a year that I see and actively hate. Like, “Holy shit, did anyone making this movie have any sense of how bad this was gonna be?” Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 2018’s entry. It’s one thing to watch a bad movie. It’s another to have a bad movie make you openly scornful of it as you watch. And it’s a shame, because I wanted to root for some of the cast. But no. There’s nothing redeeming here. I can point to five other Netflix movies from this year alone that you should watch instead of thinking about watching this one.
Ideal Home — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Fun little indie that no one has seen. Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan are a gay couple whose live are upended by the appearance of Coogan’s grandson. His son gets arrested and thrown in jail, so suddenly they have to take care of this kid. Which is annoying to Coogan, who likes his lifestyle, but is great for Rudd, who felt their relationship was getting stale and thinks this is a great new chapter for them. It’s a fun movie. It’s one of those movies I’d recommend because its very likable. Rudd and Coogan are quite strong here, and it’s just a nice, pleasant movie. Skip one of the mainstream pieces of shit you were gonna watch and watch something like this instead. You’ll get more out of it.
Incredibles 2 — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Full disclosure: the first Incredibles is not one of my favorite Pixar movies. I know people say it’s their favorite and there’s this “untouchable” quality about it when you talk about it. But I just think it’s perfectly good. It’s bunched up in the middle of all the Pixar movies for me. It’s good. They’re all good. So I wasn’t overly thrilled when they announced this. To me, it took a spot away from a possible original idea (and the last two big original ideas: Inside Out and Coco, were top tenners for me) and was Brad Bird wiping the failure of Tomorrowland off his resume, kind of how Finding Dory was Andrew Stanton wiping John Carter off his. When going out on your own fails, come back and go back to the well. So there’s definitely a cynicism I have while watching this movie. That aside — it’s perfectly fine. It’s right in line with all of the Pixar sequels. The second one isn’t as good as the first. (And in both cases where there was a third one, the third one was better than the second. So I look forward to the eventual Incredibles 3.) This is lower third of Pixar for me, just because when they’re original, they’re so much better. It’s enjoyable, it’s fun. It’s Pixar. But the sequels tend to not do it for me. At least this sequel didn’t focus on a side character who didn’t need their own movie. Give me original Pixar. This is just filler.
In Darkness — * * * (3 stars)
A 2018 movie that could have been made by Hitchcock 60 years ago. Of course, when movies delve into that realm, they’re rarely any good. This one… it had moments that intrigued me and made me think of what could have been had they gone that route instead of the generic thriller route, but overall it was far too by-the-numbers for me to care. I liked Natalie Dormer playing the blind woman, and I like the general plot of the blind woman hearing a murder and then sort of solving it while also being hunted by the people who did it. But this movie did too much. It went too many other places that seemed unnecessary. And I think it’s because she and her partner wrote it together (with him directing it), which made it too much about giving her a showcase for her acting. Which, sure, it definitely does that. And a few times I thought the direction was good, but overall, the movie doesn’t work as well as it could. Which is a shame. But not everything can rise above.
Ismael’s Ghosts — * * * (3 stars)
This is by the guy who did My Golden Days. I saw it because it had Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg. It was just fine. His movies are just fine to me.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom — * * * (3 stars)
I’m pretty disgusted by this movie. For a lot of reasons. First… you took J.A. Bayona out of the directing pool and gave him a director-for-hire job, when he could have been making some cool original movie instead. Second… you straight up remade The Lost World. And you pretty much hid your shitty premise in the marketing all the way through. Everything about getting the dinosaurs off and all that… complete ruse. That’s done in the first 30 minutes. The movie’s about people capturing the dinosaurs and trying to sell them on the black market. Which apparently they thought was gonna be kept quiet? The only purpose of this movie was to get the dinosaurs out into the real world in the end, which admittedly I guess could work? But also, you’re then looking at every bad disaster movie. The point of this one was that it was contained in the park, and we found reasons to keep going back. But maybe they’ll make it less shitty than this one was. Oh, and also… this and Westworld Season 2 basically end in the exact same place. Maybe a crossover is coming/
The Keeping Hours — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Blumhouse movie starring Lee Pace and Carrie Coon. They buried it and it never come out, which is always the sign of a bad Blumhouse movie. And this is exactly that. Remember that movie Before I Wake? With Jacob Tremblay where he’s the kid whose dreams manifest into reality? And the nightmares make things go bad? This is a weird version of that, where the couple’s son dies, but miraculously he shows up in his room years later. It’s… it doesn’t work. I watched it for the leads, but it’s not a good movie. Don’t bother with it.
A Kid Like Jake — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Movie about parents coming to terms with the fact that their son is gay. These movies never do it for me. Maybe because this one wasn’t particularly interesting or it’s because of my outlook on life. Which is… why is this a big deal and why does it feel so false when they worry about it this much? But of course that’s me. Maybe someone really likes this movie for different reasons. All I can do is watch a movie from my own experiences. This one didn’t do it for me.
King Lear — * * * (3 stars)
BBC TV movie. But… Anthony Hopkins is King Lear, and his daughters are played by Emma Thompson, Emily Watson and Florence Pugh. And you get Jim Broadbent to boot. So yeah. That’s why I saw this. Hard to make Shakespeare interesting on screen anymore (unless you’re Kenneth Branagh, apparently), but the quality of actors made this watchable for me.
Kings — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Hey, remember that movie about the LA riots that starred Halle Berry and Daniel Craig? Trick question, because this is that movie, and no one knows this even came out. Crazy to me that this could be made and be utterly buried immediately upon release. It’s not even that bad. Sure, it doesn’t work in the least, and tonally it’s all over the place. It goes from almost broad comedy to romantic comedy to trying to make statements about race and police brutality, all set among the backdrop of one of the biggest events in Los Angeles in the past fifty years. You want a film that better handles the riots as a backdrop? Gook. THAT movie utilized the event. This movie feels like the riots, which are a crucial element of the story, as it takes place entirely over that day, are an unnecessary element. It could be any event, really. I’m more interested in how they managed this cast. Seems to be because it was written and directed by the lady who wrote Mustang, which was fantastic. Interesting that this was the follow up. Doesn’t work at all, but it’ll be an interesting footnote in all these people’s careers.
The Kissing Booth — * * * (3 stars)
Netflix rom com. They’re doing their best to bring this genre back. It’s… not amazing. But it’s got some charm. If you’re into the genre I’d recommend giving it a shot, but for most people they don’t need to bother with it.
Krystal — * * * (3 stars)
I am always fascinated when actors direct, and will usually seek out the films when they do. This the third feature directed by William H. Macy, and the two before this weren’t great. This one… I liked the premise. Young boy falls for a drug-addicted alcoholic stripper at an AA meeting. Unfortunately it didn’t amount to much. Though at least it had more moments I liked. It’s structured way too much like TV comedy for it to be a good movie. Too many moments of actual violence being subverted by cartoon slapstick. But hey, at least the broad premise is good. So there’s that.
Lean on Pete — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Really strong film. One of those quiet little indies that I just responded to. This, to me, is what The Rider was to other people. Simple premise: kid with not the best home life gets a job working for a horse trainer. And he starts to bond with one of the horses, an old, broken down horse that’s on his way to the glue factory pretty soon. It’s really terrific. Definitely one of those hidden gems to seek out. It’s by the guy who did 45 Years, if that means anything to you.
The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter — * * * (3 stars)
I was excited for this by sheer fact that Jody Hill directed it. I think Observe and Report is such an underrated comedy and still laugh about a couple moments from that movie almost a decade later. Admittedly, I’ve never seen anything else he’s ever done, but I like that, and those other things people seem to like, so I was interested in this. The result… not great. It just doesn’t work. It’s not that funny, and somewhere along the way the comedy got lost. The premise could have been funny, but not everything works. Shit happens.
Leo Da Vinci: Mission Mona Lisa — * * (2 stars)
I can’t help myself with these obviously awful animated movies. Especially now that there’s an element of foreign shitty animated movies that are making their way over here. They’re paying people to dub them in English and then they’re sort of getting a release? Whenever there’s an insane plot, I find myself wanting to see them out of a sick sense of schadenfreude. Look at the fucking title of this movie — it’s teenage Leonardo Da Vinci going on adventures. What the actual fuck is this? Don’t worry, it’s awful, but aren’t you glad I told you about it so you can hate it by proxy?
Life of the Party — * * (2 stars)
This is practically Unforgivable by sheer fact that Melissa McCarthy is essentially remaking Back to School, one of the greatest comedies ever made. I couldn’t get over that for half the film. And the other half, I couldn’t believe how unfunny and generic it was. I don’t understand how all her movies can be so bad. Since Bridesmaids, she’s starred in eight movies that have come out. Before this year, Spy is the only one that was any good. It’s crazy how a person can be on this bad a run and be trying. At least Adam Sandler isn’t trying anymore. Jesus.
Like Father — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This is a nominee for “film I assumed would be terrible that actually was quite solid.” Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammar are not exactly a pairing I thought I’d be interested in watching. And the general premise seemed generic and flimsy at best. Yet… the movie manages to wring a lot of heart and elicited a fair amount of chuckles out of me. It was written by Lauren Miller, who had previously written For a Good Time, Call… a movie I quite enjoyed. It’s Netflix, so you figure it’s not worth your time. At least that’s how I assume most people feel about Netflix movies. And while it’s not perfect, there’s way more here than you think you’re gonna get. I was more impressed by how this movie handled the dramatic elements than anything else. Because some of the comedy doesn’t work at all, and then when it got back to the father-daughter moments, that’s when it really worked. I’m impressed by this. It’s not perfect, but for what I thought I was gonna get, this greatly exceeded expectations.
The Little Mermaid — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Interesting… angle, I guess, for this one? It tells the story everyone knows in the prologue, and then starts in 30s Mississippi. I guess that’s better than telling the same story over again. Still… not very great. There isn’t a subtle bone in this movie’s body. When the bad guy shows up, the music gets so ominous you might as well have a sign pop up alongside it. I guess this is for young kids, but it also isn’t? It’s kinda boring? If the production values were a bit lower, and it were a bit cheesier, this could have been one of those Nickelodeon/Disney channel TV movies I grew up with in the 90s, and that would have made it okay. As it stands, I’m not really sure why this was made.
Loving Pablo — * * * (3 stars)
Benicio Del Toro plays Pablo Escobar, and no one sees it. And now Javier Bardem plays Pablo Escobar, with Penelope Cruz in it, and no one sees it. I feel like it says something that two of the biggest Spanish-speaking actors felt like they had to play Escobar at some point, and that both of the movies were not very good at all. This one is more freewheeling than the Del Toro one, since it’s about Cruz as a reporter who becomes Escobar’s mistress. It’s trying for that fun tone that worked for Blow (which she was also in), but not so much for American Made. It’s… flimsy at best. It kinda maintains watchability, mostly for the actors, but it doesn’t quite work. At least you get Penelope Cruz instead of Josh Hutcherson. That’s an improvement, right?
Mad to Be Normal — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I’m usually not a fan of movies about mental health professionals. This is no exception. It was directed by a documentarian, which may have something to do with it? I just wasn’t engaged at all.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again — * * * (3 stars)
A great example of a subtitle echoing what everyone said when they announced it. I… didn’t really care about the first Mamma Mia? It was light, breezy and fun, and completely inconsequential. It’s a Broadway show and not a movie. So the sequel, I wasn’t particularly invested in seeing it. But, you know… it’s fun. You spend a hot summer day in a theater listening to ABBA songs for 100 minutes. It’ll put a smile on your face, even if it’s not high filmmaking. They don’t even pretend like they’re gonna stick you with the ABBA songs you haven’t heard. They bring back like 8 of the big songs from the first movie. They don’t give a fuck. Mostly what I’m fascinated by is the fact that they kill off the Meryl character in the first two minutes of the movie (she’s dead before it starts). Which is ballsy, but makes sense considering she’d never done a sequel before this. And then they decide to go all out and bring her back for the finale as a ghost. Which, honestly, works way better than it ought to and adds a level of emotion that I didn’t think was possible in a movie filled with ABBA songs.
Manhunt — * * * (3 stars)
So this is what John Woo’s been doing, huh? At least… it was coherent? I mean, it’s an “innocent man on the run” thriller. Absolutely nothing you haven’t seen before. But it’s not a four-hour propaganda epic, so there’s that, right?
Mary Magdalene — * * * (3 stars)
I’ve been saying this since they announced the movie. Garth Davis makes Lion, a movie that all around works. It’s terrific. Great story, wonderfully directed, great performances, Oscar nominations… an all-around win. Which is not the norm for people working with the Weinstein Company in recent years. Most of the time you end up like Justin Chadwick, who directed Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and had such battles with Harvey over which cut they were gonna use. To the point where he held his ground, Harvey buried his movie and no one saw it. That movie… fine. But an all around failure on a lot of levels. And after that experience, what did Chadwick do? Turned around and worked with Harvey AGAIN! On a movie called Tulip Fever, that you’ve likely never heard of with a cast that you would put your money down to see if I told you that and nothing else about it: Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, Dane DeHaan, Jack O’Connell, Tom Hollander, Judi Dench, Zach Galifianakis, Cara Delevingne. I tell that to people and they go, “Oh shit, when is that movie coming out?” Guess what? Came out last year. And you had no fucking clue. Because it god dumped and buried, right at this time last year, during the Labor Day lull. My point is… that’s someone who had a bad experience with TWC. Garth Davis won! It’s like sticking your bloody arm in a piranha tank and coming out unscathed. Why would you stick it in again?!! So he did, and this is the result. This movie still hasn’t come out in the U.S. It stars Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus. And you know what? It was a bad idea when I heard about it and it’s not a good film. It looks stunning. I will give it that. But when do religious movies work now? They don’t. It was a weird choice for all involved, and then all the Harvey scandal stuff left it floating in the ocean without a life raft. So now no one will see it. Which is probably for the best, because it’s not great. But it will be an interesting one for people to discover in the future, since both Mara and Joaquin seem to have the kind of careers where there will be enough films that people for sure watch as they get into movies that it makes people seek out the ones in between that they don’t know about. And they’ll come across this and be like, “What? Why?” Which is exactly what I’ve thought all throughout the process with this one.
Mary Shelley — * * * (3 stars)
This would have been a Weinstein Oscar special fifteen years ago. Now? The director of Wadjda (which is great) makes a movie about Mary and Percy Shelley and no one’s seen it and it’s not that great. Because it’s a boring, stuffy romantic period piece, the kind that barely worked ten years ago. Now, they’re just relics.
Measure of a Man — * * * (3 stars)
This is the kind of coming-of-age story that could have been a favorite of people in the right era. This… doesn’t feel like the right era. It’s about a fat kid at his family’s lake house for the summer, learning to come into his own and be assertive and do an honest day’s work, and all those lessons kids are supposed to learn. It seemed really generic at first and I wasn’t totally into it, but by the end it kind of won me over. It’s not fantastic, but it works. Maybe it catches the right ten year old at the right time in some indeterminate future and someone really likes it. I think that’s not out of the realm of possibility, even though quite literally almost no one reading this has any idea what this movie even is, and you have to dig as deep as I do into movies in order to have even heard about it. But hey, that’s what I’m here for.
The Meg — * * * (3 stars)
I knew what I was getting from this from the jump. They tried to market a campy, cult kinda movie, but you knew this was gonna be straight serious. And even straight serious makes for a watchable movie, but this was definitely lacking in that element of cheeky fun that makes movies like this work. Now we just have a shark thriller that’s perfectly fine that I’m never gonna wanna watch again. Especially since, here, they blatantly market to the Chinese audience. It’s perfectly watchable and nothing more.
The Mercy — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Directed by the guy who did Theory of Everything, starring Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz. I’ll start with that, since I don’t think this has come out yet and I don’t think it’s gonna get a decent enough release for people to even know what this is. It’s based on a true story of a guy who enters a contest to sail around the world on a sailboat. I’m not sure how much more to say, because depending on what you’ve seen or read, because you might know the story already. But let me say… the real story is more interesting than the movie. They tried to both tell the uplifting tale and have their cake too. Which just doesn’t work with a story like this. You can’t set up one thing and then try for something so diametrically opposed, tonally. It’s a solid enough movie, but it could have been way better. Oh well. Shit happens.
Midnight Sun — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
YA movie about a girl with a disease in which she cannot be exposed to direct sunlight. Because if she is, some gene will be switched on, which will kill her. You know how it is. So she goes out at night. And then she meets a boy she’s had a crush on all this time, who she’d never been able to meet, and then they fall in love. It’s nonsense. Bella Thorne has become one of those people who seems famous for being famous (and slutty on the internet, apparently), and they started putting her on movies. Though they all come out VOD and not a single one of them has been remarkable in any way. This movie… the only thing intriguing about it is the casting of Rob Riggle as the dad. Very out-of-left-field choice. And then the ending which… spoiler alert… they just fucking kill her. But that’s not that rare in a movie like this. It’s trying to be that Mandy Moore cancer movie from back when I was in high school. Don’t worry. No one ever has to bother seeing this. It’s not worth anybody’s time.
Mile 22 — * * * (3 stars)
Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg. What could go wrong, right? Well, this movie. That’s what could go wrong. Seems like no one really gave a shit about this one. And it’s also kinda racist? But mostly it’s just boring and incoherent. Fortunately it didn’t make money, so I don’t have to be upset that it was terrible, lazy and made money because of the people involved or the marketing. But man… not a good movie.
The Miracle Season — * * * (3 stars)
It’s a sports movie with religious overtones. The sports movie tends to be interesting no matter what, and the religious movie tends to be annoying (to me) no matter what. Fortunately one outweighed the other and I felt myself being invested and not bothered by the parts that pissed me off. So that was nice. Plus you get William Hurt, who I love seeing in things. Helen Hunt too. Nice to see them. Otherwise it’s a volleyball movie. It’s okay. The ability to be drawn into a sporting contest overcomes all the annoying religious bullshit.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout — * * * * (4 stars)
This movie feels like a proper culmination. They’ll keep making more, of course. But if they don’t, it felt like a nice ending to an era of this franchise. There was the pre-Abrams era, and then they’ve been on this mini-arc with 3, 4 and 5. So now with 6, they give that a nice ending and now they’re free to change it up when they come back and do another one. I was very pleased when I saw them openly reference the first movie (the female arms dealer being related to Vanessa Redgrave), and then I noticed that they basically referenced them all. Hell, he free climbs at the end, which is exactly how the second movie starts. They basically told a contained story (even though it is a sequel to the last one, but honestly you don’t need to know anything other than they captured the guy) and gave us a highlight reel of the franchise at the same time. Set pieces were fun, whole movie was fun. This franchise continues to deliver, and I think that’s what Cruise goes for. I think he knows he has to make each one worthwhile, and he does. Kudos to him. Most franchises get stale or repetitive by the sixth one (looking at you, Fast and Furious). I hope they keep making these until Cruise decides he’s done.
Mobile Homes — * * * (3 stars)
I saw this for one reason and one reason only: Imogen Poots. I have discovered that I will watch literally anything she is in. And without her, this movie doesn’t get seen by me. It’s… fine. She’s good. She’s a mother who isn’t prepared to be a mother so she treats her child like shit, basically dragging him to her next scheme, next bad boyfriend. Outside of her performance, there’s really nothing here. It’s trying to be Sundance gritty to a fault, and doesn’t amount to anything other than a good lead performance.
Most Likely to Murder — * * * (3 stars)
Good concept. Former high school cool kid comes back in town years later. Now, he’s basically an underachieving stoner and no one gives a shit about who he used to be. And his former girlfriend is dating the nerdy guy everyone hated. So he sets out to prove that the new boyfriend is actually a murderer. It’s kinda fun. A bit too indie. Plays more to the alternative comedy crowd. Mostly just okay for me. But worth knowing about since it’s definitely something most people wouldn’t hear about otherwise.
Ocean’s Eight — * * * * (4 stars)
This is the female reboot we deserved. That Ghostbusters one was borderline embarrassing. This one not only worked, but it did it right. I’m not gonna say that the story completely worked or was particularly groundbreaking (since it’s basically The Force Awakens… broadly following the exact same broad strokes of the first Ocean’s film, down to the exact scene where the Pitt/Blanchett character pulls the Clooney/Bullock character aside and says basically, “This is really about your ex, isn’t it?”), but I will say… it’s fun as hell. It didn’t necessarily try to do the Soderbergh visual thing (though it had shades of it as a callback), and it didn’t go that overboard in connecting it to the first set of films (though the choice of eight was smart… because now you can do 8, 9 and 10, which then connects to 11, 12 and 13, and theoretically you could connect the two into a giant thing if it all works out and you could somehow afford all those people in some sort of combination). I honestly think this is exactly the kind of movie you’d have expected it to be, and that’s a good thing. They didn’t screw it up, and it was gonna be hard to really do anything truly unique. So they made the best version of a female Ocean’s movie that they could. Now the question is if they can deliver on a good sequel. Because this movie deserves a good one.
On Chesil Beach — * * * (3 stars)
Based on an Ian McEwan novel and starring Saoirse Ronan. The last time that happened, we got Atonement. This… is not Atonement. It’s about the wedding night between a British couple in the 60s. It… doesn’t go well, and the fallout of which changes the course of both character’s lives. I bet this is a very solid book, but the movie doesn’t quite turn out as well as I’d hoped it would. Oh well. Still love seeing Saoirse in anything.
Overboard — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Why would you make this? What’s the point of remaking Overboard? They switched genders, but still… you cast Anna Faris, who hasn’t been particularly relevant in like, six years? And then Eugenio Derbez, who is charming, but still not overly known in America. Weird choices all around. Seemed like they got turned down by everyone else and this is who they got stuck with, cast-wise. The movie… kind of works once it gets to the third act, once he stops being entitled and becomes a doting “father.” But it’s still poorly written and not that good overall. It had moments where it almost won me over, but still, this isn’t something that should have ever happened.
The Package — * * * (3 stars)
What a terrible retitling. This was originally called Eggplant Emoji, which wasn’t perfect, but worked. The Package makes it sound utterly generic. It’s about a group of kids who go camping and one of them gets his dick chopped off by accident. So the rest of them run around trying to find it and get it back to him before they won’t be able to reattach it again. This is a fun little movie. Not perfect, but you could do worse for R-rated comedy. Also the second film of 2018 with Geraldine Viswanathan, who for my money steals the show in both movies. She’s definitely someone I’m gonna keep an eye out in the future. Overall, I’m okay with this movie. But the title is really working against it.
Paper Year — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
A movie about the first year of marriage between two people. The woman is played by Eve Hewson, who I liked in The Knick, so I figured I’d give it a shot. This was… boring. It feels like a first film/first screenplay kind of deal. They all fall into similar tropes. Sometimes they work. This one didn’t.
Patient Zero — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This has been on the shelf for like two whole years. It kept getting release dates and then was pulled at the last minute and pushed again. Happened again this year. It was supposed to come out in February or March, then was pulled indefinitely, and then was quietly dumped on VOD in August and I think is supposed to get a nominal theatrical release sometime in September. Weird, weird path for this one. Also a weird movie. So that has something to do with it. It’s about a rabies outbreak in humans that turns them into rabid zombies. They’re just rage monsters. And so most remaining humans are underground, in a bunker, looking for a cure. It’s… not that interesting. Goes through a lot of the standard tropes, and doesn’t get interesting until Stanley Tucci shows up, as the titular patient zero. He’s the only thing of note in this movie, which is utterly generic in every other way.
Poor Boy — * * * (3 stars)
This movie is, and will only forever be known, as the movie where Michael Shannon plays a rodeo clown. Outside of that, no one else will seek this out. It’s about two redneck brothers who are constantly scheming to get out of their situation. Most of these schemes are bad, harebrained plans that backfire. It’s… moderately engaging? But it’s one of those movies… first off, it’s overdirected. It creates this atmosphere that I guess is trying to be artistic? I don’t know. But it’s also one of those movies where you see an engaged cast, but you don’t really care what’s going on in the macro, and you’re not really interested in anything that’s happening other than the performances in front of you. I guess that’s why it hasn’t come out in two years and was basically dumped into one theater. But hey, Michael Shannon is a rodeo clown and delivers a big monologue at the end. So there’s that.
A Prayer Before Dawn — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
It’s Midnight Express, but in a Thai prison, and with boxing. Need I say more? It’s quite solid. Very brutal. You know a movie is hardcore when there aren’t many subtitles for the foreign language and there’s an unadorned rape scene that doesn’t even try to be dramatic. Rape just happens in this movie. That’s the sign of a fucking experience. That’s real prison shit. It’s a very solid movie worth checking out. They kind of buried it because they (probably rightly) realized there was a limited theatrical audience for it. But this is one of the more solid efforts of the year and deserves an audience. Definitely one of those purely A24 type movies.
RBG — * * * * (4 stars)
The best superhero movie of 2018. This and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? are the documentaries that show you just how amazing the people you want to be amazing really are. I was familiar with Ruth Bader Ginsburg the way most of us are — obviously in regards to the Supreme Court, and I also knew she was involved in landmark women’s rights legislation in the 70s and 80s. But I didn’t know the early stuff. And the section about her going to law school, and what she had to do in order to get by… that’s incredible. Truly incredible. I think this is a documentary that all young women (and men) need to see. This is important.
Le Redoutable — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Michel Hazanavicius wins an Oscar with The Artist. Then he remakes The Search, which is a decent idea, but it didn’t quite turn out as well as one would have hoped. He then goes back and makes a movie about Jean-Luc Godard. It’s about his relationship with a 17-year old actress he later marries. It’s… not the worst idea? But who is the audience for this? The strength of this movie is the visual palette and production design (much like Godard’s work in the 60s). The movie is perfectly fine. Not sure I need to see it again, but it’s perfectly fine. Again, not idea who the audience for this movie is. It seems like a filmmaker got away with making something he wanted to make that not really anyone else wanted to see. And hey, more power to him for that.
Revenge — * * * * (4 stars)
I had a chance to see a screening of this last October and didn’t take it. Having seen it, I wish I had. I also was sitting on a copy of this for months until I actually watched it. I wished I hadn’t waited. Because this movie is great. It’s, just as the title suggests, a very simple revenge film. A woman is on vacation with her… what’s the title for the guy when she’s the mistress? Anyway, she’s at his nice house in the middle of the desert. And his two Russian buddies come for a hunting trip. Things… don’t go well and she’s eventually left for dead. I’ll leave the specifics out. And, she survives (practically Revenant-style), and comes back to get those motherfuckers. And it’s dope. This is the kind of movie you need to see with people who can cheer and groan at the same time. The climax of this movie is so bloody and so realistic… they’re running through a house, both bleeding profusely and are slipping around on all the blood on the floors. It’s really fantastic. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough and it’s one of the absolute best movies of 2018.
Renegades — * * * (3 stars)
I wonder sometimes how Luc Besson can script so many movies. I guess he just comes up with ideas, sort of half scripts them and then other writers actually do most of the work. But it’s crazy how many movies he has his name on that he didn’t direct. This is one of them. About a Navy SEAL team that finds out about a treasure in a lake and, Three Kings style, hatches a plan to get the gold out. It’s basically Three Kings, but in Bosnia. It’s fine. Nothing special. Totally forgettable. But you can enjoy yourself during it. It’s the cable watch. You know my history with these. I’m all about the cable watch.
The Rider — * * * (3 stars)
This was the indie darling of the first half of the year. Nominated for Indie Spirit awards, the whole deal. So I knew exactly what I was getting. I knew it would be a decent enough movie that was being overrated by the art film crowd. And lo and behold… that’s exactly what I got. The art film crowd salivated over this because they cast non-actors and made it very naturalistic. It’s just fine. A quiet, slow movie that’s a character piece that looks nice. Didn’t blow me away. It’s a perfectly solid film and a good calling card for the director, but it’s not something I would say is as good as its reputation may suggest. Though if that reputation does get more people to see it, then I will be okay with that.
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind — * * * * (4 stars)
A fantastic documentary. You know what it is, you know what you’re getting, and it was perfectly wonderful. I think the thing this did for me was, after it gave me the entire puzzle, it answered the question I’m sure we all had in the immediate aftermath of, “Why did it have to end this way?” And honestly, after seeing everything in this documentary, I was able to feel okay about it. It’s not great, but I understood it. But mostly it allowed me to celebrate everything we got before it, which cannot be stressed enough. Especially for someone my age, or even people a little older. This man is and was such a huge part of my life for so many years, from the standup to the films. All of it. Sometimes you need a movie to fully make you appreciate a genius, and this, hopefully, accomplishes that. (I tried to limit myself to the movie, because I could write a page on just the man and his work.)
Sadie — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Erotic thriller. $5 visuals, 2 cent plot. I assume the only people watching this are doing so for the sex. The visuals are really the only thing that moderately piqued my interest. Otherwise I had no use for this.
Samson — * * (2 stars)
Boring religious nonsense. There’s always one of these every year, and I continue watching them. I guess because I need something to laugh at? These movies are always horribly written, and never manage to raise to the level of decent cinema. It’s too focused on appealing to the religious base and not to anyone else. Problem is, it’s not even good enough to appeal to anyone with a sense of what basement-level decent filmmaking is. But hey, it reminded us that Billy Zane is still alive, so it can’t be all bad, right?
The Scent of Rain and Lightning — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I truly only watched this because someone I know crewed on it. And because I saw that Maika Monroe was in it, so I figured it could be decent. Nah. Pretty boring overall. One of those movies I’ve watched that 99% of you don’t even know exists. And don’t worry, you don’t need to.
Set It Up — * * * * (4 stars)
This is the romantic comedy we deserve. And it’s probably the best rom com in a decade. This is Netflix doing their best to bring the genre back to life. And man, do I respect that. Here’s the premise, if you haven’t heard it: two overworked and frustrated assistants to very type-A bosses hatch a scheme: get their bosses to date each other so that way they’ll have more down time at the office. And it works. And of course they start to find themselves falling for each other too. It’s a great concept, a great execution, and the two leads have fantastic chemistry. And it has the secret weapon of all good romantic comedies… great writing. That’s the secret of the rom com, you need to be able to write comedy well. It’s not just the dialogue, but you need to sell the relationship between the characters. And you basically need to be able to pull off 80% of a screwball comedy. Which is one of the toughest things to do. So I’m all for this movie and I really, really liked it. The romantic comedy is a staple of cinema, going back to It Happened One Night. It’s nice to see it making a comeback.
Shock and Awe — * * * (3 stars)
Rob Reiner movie about the journalists who held the Bush administration accountable and openly told people that they were lying when everyone else went along with the lies they were being fed. Important story to tell, especially nowadays, with the current administration, but ultimately it’s not that interesting, even with a cast that includes Woody Harrelson and Tommy Lee Jones. I appreciate a movie that’s trying to talk about freedom of the press and how a press should stick by the facts and proper reporting rather than go along with the pressure of a government trying to sell lies, but this one just wasn’t that interesting. Reiner’s LBJ movie was much more interesting, even if that wasn’t all that amazing either.
Show Dogs — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This is a movie nobody wanted. Like it was 2001 all over again. A live-action/CG hybrid about a dog cop who goes undercover at the Westminster show to catch a guy who kidnapped a panda and is gonna sell it on the black market. Okay. It’s Miss Congeniality with dogs… and the main dog is voiced by Ludcaris. I… honestly don’t know how this came out. AND they had to cut a scene where the dog goes through TSA and enjoys getting a pat down on his genitals. I don’t know how to explain anything about this movie, so I think it’s best to just leave it alone.
Siberia — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
VOD Keanu Reeves movie. Generic thriller. It’s a weird one, too. Because it’s almost a romance, but not really? It’s a weird movie. Not really worth talking about, because there isn’t much here. He’s the only person you’ve heard of in here and it’s not even really worth seeing for his performance. Weird choice by him.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado — * * * * (4 stars)
I knew to temper my expectations with this, since Denis Villeneuve wasn’t coming back. He has an ability to take what would otherwise be an acceptable film and make it profound. So I knew that this would likely just be solid at best and not be special like the first Sicario was. Then they went and changed the title from Soldado, which is just stupid. Still, I expected this to be solid and totally fine. And I got very solid and actually quite good, all things considered. It’s not the movie you thought you were getting from the trailer, and that’s not altogether a bad thing. It goes in some interesting directions. I’m not sure it entirely works, but I was perfectly entertained by the direction it went. Curious to see what they do with the third one, if they even get to a third one.
Skyscraper — * * * (3 stars)
So the Rock has completely crossed over into making movies for the China market. That’s entirely what this is. I’m sure he got paid a boatload for this, but this is not a movie for American audiences. It’s Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno, and there’s not an original bone in its body. And the Rock has a prosthetic leg, just because, I guess. There’s almost no redeeming value in this movie whatsoever. And here I thought Rampage was gonna be the worst thing he was in this year.
Slender Man — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This year fortunately seems short on really shitty horror movies. Which makes this one stand out. But in reality it’s just one in a long line of thrillers based on memes or ghost stories. It’s not good, you know the deal. They’re never good. These movies are always a chore for me.
Social Animals — * * * (3 stars)
This is the third movie in nine months I’ve seen Noel Wells in, and the third movie I’ve come away going, “She was really great in that.” Mr. Roosevelt she wrote and directed, and it’s a nice little movie. And then there was Happy Anniversary, which is one of 43 Netflix movies to have come out this year. One of the more solid ones for my money, but when you’re 1 of 43, it’s hard to be seen by that many people. Still, she’s quite good in it. Here, she’s also quite good, starring with Josh Radnor, who seems to like being in indie dramedies, and Aya Cash, who is incredible on You’re the Worst (or at least was for the season and a half I saw of that show before I gave up on it like I do every show). It’s… fine. Goes through a lot of standard indie tropes, including casting the “clearly trying to be Melissa McCarthy from Bridesmaids” character that has popped up in at least four movies I can think of off the top of my head the past two years. But it had some moments that I thought worked. And overall it overcame a lot of the shit I groan at because I’ve seen too many indies that are all the same. Ultimately, it’s fine. Which is all-too the norm for this year.
Solo: A Star Wars Story — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
The new Star Wars movies, aside from being fun… they’re not particularly groundbreaking. And they don’t really warrant a lot of rewatches. So when they announced this movie… did anyone think it would be that good? They lucked out with Rogue One, but barely. And I think the success of that led some people to believe that this would work. But I got exactly what I was expecting… a totally fine and fun movie, but one that follows the same formula Rogue One did, and one that doesn’t really give me anything but a “safe” Star Wars movie, made by a corporation trying to churn out as much profit by exploiting a popular universe. This franchise is basically oil, and they’re just fucking drilling it out of the ground until it dries up. That’s what it is, and you need to expect that. In specific — Alden Ehrenreich was fine. They didn’t give him anything of value to work with. Emilia Clarke was underutilized and her final scene came completely out of nowhere and was so underdeveloped I couldn’t give a shit (though that cameo of her “boss” was nice). Paul Bettany was basically a plug-and-play villain. Nothing memorable. Woody Harrelson was fine, but the character was basically Long John Silver, so you knew everything about where it was going. Thandie Newton was cool… and then they killed her off before she could be the best character in the movie. Donald Glover as Lando I felt was a bad casting choice, because I knew all he’d do was a Billy Dee Williams impression… and that’s what happened. At least Ehrenreich was trying to do his own thing. Glover was basically just doing an impression. The Phoebe Waller Bridge droid that Lando was fucking was okay. A bit overwritten, though. Clearly meant to be the character everyone latched onto. Like that fucking snowman from Frozen. Yeah, we get what you’re going for. There were a few good ideas here that weren’t fully fleshed out, because the pace was so frenetic we didn’t get a moment for the characters to breathe and exist. So you know, it is what it is. This is the Star Wars everyone gets now. The only thing I’ll say is — this is exactly what you get. This is Marvel, this is all those franchises. It’s Disney. They’re not interested in making new and original stories with these franchises. They just want your money. When you treat it as such, you’re never disappointed.
Sorry to Bother You — * * * * (4 stars)
This movie was fun as shit. Not gonna say it’s the most important movie of the year or amazing because it deals with social and political issues that are relevant to the day, but I will say that it’s the most unique film so far this year. Which counts for a lot. I like that it’s trying something different. It exists within a universe all of its own, and it plays by its own rules. And there’s so much to like about it. It’s not a perfect movie, nor do I think does it completely track. But I don’t care. It’s really fun, really well done, really smart and does a lot of cool things that I enjoyed a lot. Regardless of your feelings about it (and yes, it is one of the more overrated movies of the year so far, but I also think it’s still so underseen that the overrating of it has only gone so far, for which I’m grateful), I think this is one of the essential movies of 2018. I think this is a movie that everyone needs to see, whether they’re gonna love it or not. I think this illustrates the power of the filmmaker’s voice, which is all too rare to see nowadays, especially at a level like this.
The Spy Who Dumped Me — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This was a foregone conclusion. I did not like this movie. I will say that I didn’t despise this movie, but I also did not like it. Mila Kunis… I’m pretty indifferent toward her. Kate McKinnon… I am not a fan. I’ve said this in the past, I think she mugs too much for the camera. I’ve just never enjoyed her thing, and I leave it to those who do. This movie… good premise, but you knew from the cast and the trailer that it just wasn’t gonna work. And it doesn’t. It goes to the same boring places all comedies nowadays go. You get the sense that this is a movie written by a woman, rewritten by a man and guided by male studio executives. Maybe we should just let women write and direct their own movies. Because this feels like every mainstream studio comedy out there, and those sure as shit haven’t worked the past five-plus years. Anyway, this probably won’t be Unforgivable, but I’m definitely not a fan of it.
Submission — * * * (3 stars)
This is one of those movies where you watch it and wonder why the characters haven’t seen any movies. Because it’s blatantly obvious what’s happening all the way through. They even REFERENCE The Blue Angel in the movie! How the fuck can you openly reference The Blue Angel and then watch a teacher become infatuated with a student without knowing how that’s gonna end? But it’s Stanley Tucci, who I love, and Addison Timlin, who has made enough cool, weird little indies that I’ll give her the benefit of doubt in things. But it doesn’t add up. It has that boring and pretentious literary talk, which I despise. Academics and writers meeting and talking about their work over dinner is something that I would be happy to never see again in a movie. And then long passages of novelists writing books… it just has so many things that I can’t stand, which the two actors barely can overcome. Not really for me at all.
Summer of ’84 — * * * (3 stars)
I suspect that this was heavily influenced by Stranger Things. But I haven’t seen Stranger Things, so I couldn’t tell you for sure. It’s about a kid hanging around his neighborhood all summer, with nothing to do, who begins to suspect his cop neighbor may in fact be a serial killer. So he and the other kids around town start to investigate. It’s… fine. Sounds like it would have made a great Are You Afraid of the Dark episode. I wasn’t entirely on board with it until about the midway point, but it won me over. I went from indifferent to, “Yeah, it was okay.” So I guess that’s a step up. Still, I suspect the only people who really would care are the Stranger Things crowd, and I imagine they’d think the show is way better than this movie is.
Superfly — * * * (3 stars)
I was very much against this when I first heard about it. Why would you remake Superfly? That said, upon watching it… it was fine. I had no problems with it. It works. Not something I’ll go back and watch, but considering I thought I’d be indifferent toward it and think it was a bad movie… totally okay with this.
Super Troopers 2 — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Definitely 15 years too late, but still, not the abomination you might expect. It has its funny moments. I appreciated that they didn’t blatantly repeat gags from the first film, though they do openly reference the gags, to sort of acknowledge them, which almost makes it more awkward. Still, I enjoyed it, and another film in this sandbox is better than most other comedies out there. I got what I needed to out of this.
Support the Girls — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Gonna be honest, only saw this because I happened upon the premiere as I was going to see something else. So I figured what the hell. It’s kind of like Waiting… but with a mostly-female cast. About a general manager of a Hooters type sports bar who is trying to keep her shit together as everything goes wrong over the course of a day. It’s whatever. You can get through it. Didn’t do anything for me one way or another. But I like the idea and I like the message. There’s definitely room for a better version of one of these movies to come along.
Sweet Country — * * * (3 stars)
There are a handful of indie movies each year where, a month after I watched them, if you presented me with the title, I’d have no idea what it was, let alone realize that I’d even watched it. This one I actually had to look up to remember what it was as I wrote up this review. And fortunately it’s one that I want to talk about, even if I wasn’t overly enamored with it. It’s an Australian revisionist western in which the aboriginal is the hero. Which is cool. It looks really good, and it has Sam Neill in it. So for that alone, I want to mention it. As I said, I didn’t love it, but it’s a western, and I’m all for a western over most other movies.
Swinging Safari — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Written and directed by Stephon Elliott, who did Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It’s one of those childhood remembrance films, like The Sandlot or Hope and Glory. This is about one summer in his youth, growing up in Australia. It’s an ensemble, and there’s a lot of fun stuff that happens throughout. All the usual quirky, suburban neighborhood coming-of-age stuff you’d expect. A fun film. Definitely worth checking out.
The Tale — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This ended up on HBO after premiering at Sundance. Movie about a woman who goes back to revisit her youth and her relationship with her coach and his wife, realizing a much different version of events occurred than she realized at the time. It’s a dark drama about abuse, and it just wasn’t for me. Clearly very personal for Jennifer Fox, the director, but as a film, it didn’t do much for me.
Tag — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I loved the premise of this movie. The fact that it was based on real people is just a bonus. The movie could have gone wrong in so many ways. And there are moments where I thought it was trying to go wrong. But I liked it. I thought it did the premise right, for the most part. I’m not really sure a movie based on this premise could have been much better than the movie we got. I think they struggled with how hardcore and over the top to take the comedy, which hurt it at times, especially when it tried to get serious in the third act. But ultimately, I had a good time. I thought it was a lot of fun.
Tau — * * * (3 stars)
A smart house thriller where a guy abducts a girl and keeps her in the house, monitored by an advanced AI programmed into the house. Of course, she befriends the AI and starts to slowly turn it against its creator in order to escape. Maika Monroe stars and Gary Oldman voices the AI. I mean… I’m fine with these thrillers, so I didn’t have a problem with it. It was perfectly watchable for me. Considering the reviews, not everyone felt that way. But for me, you could do worse for 90 minutes.
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
The series is for children, and the movie is for children. I don’t know anything about it, and it was too kiddie for me to even try to get into. Like that Pony movie last year. Just wasn’t for me, and I’m gonna leave it to the people it’s for.
Terminal — * * * (3 stars)
This is one of those movies that always appeals to me at the outset. Random crime film with slick dialogue and an air of coolness about it. This one, though… all visuals and no substance. How they got Margot Robbie, I have no idea. And then there’s Mike Myers, randomly. There’s a “reveal” that happens toward the end that made me think, “Why bother?” It’s a movie that thinks it’s cooler than it is. Maybe it read great on paper. That’s certainly possible. This finished product… just fine. Cable watch once and then you’re done. If Margot Robbie weren’t in this, people wouldn’t give it the time of day, and that’s the kind of quality it really has.
Thoroughbreds — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I was excited about this one from January. It looked really good, had two actresses I like, and the reviews were strong. And it’s a solid movie. Really dark and fucked up, but definitely solid. This is either a hidden gem, or an underseen gem. Either way, something people should see and is one of the more worthwhile films of the year.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Yet another very solid Netflix romantic comedy. I like that they are trying to singlehandedly bring this genre back. I was in from the general premise — girl writes letters to the boys she’s had a crush on in her life, and the letters end up getting mailed. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t wear that premise out, because it then turns into something else. The lead actress, Lana Condor, is really great, and the movie is well-written. This is what a rom com should be, and I love that Netflix has become the place for these to thrive.
Traffik — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
The cynical review of this movie is “African American Straw Dogs.” Couple in a country house besieged by a gang. Though this one does more in that the gang is also secretly trafficking people. Which makes it more generic and overall worse. But it’s one of those movies that was designed to get an audience in opening weekend and maybe get rented months later by some people. These are never good. They’re junk food.
Tully — * * * * (4 stars)
I was in on this from months ago. The… I guess the reality of the movie, without getting into specifics, was spoiled for me before I went in, and viewing it through that lens made it really obvious and slightly took me out of it. But I did quite like the movie. It was a very solid effort, and I quite liked the earlier portions over the later portions. Theron gives a terrific performance, and Mackenzie Davis is always extremely likable on screen. It’s not a true return to form for Jason Reitman, but it does round out a solid trilogy of films he’s made with Diablo Cody. Overall one of the more solid films I saw this year.
Uncle Drew — * * * (3 stars)
This looked fun as hell from the trailer, but I knew going in that I was gonna get something less than that. This movie is exactly what you expect it’s going to be, but also not. Because you’d think you were gonna get a lot of basketball stuff, with all the guys in old makeup doing dunks and stuff. But no. The movie wants to be more about story. And while there are so many times in comedies where I’m screaming at them to tell a goddamn story and not focus on the random shit, this movie actually does that, to its own detriment! There are like two basketball scenes in the entire first half of the movie, and one of them is the exact same thing we’ve seen before with the Uncle Drew character. The other is entirely story based, and we don’t get basketball stuff because all the characters hate each other. Weird choice, which leads to a let down of a movie that could have been really fun and a really nice change of pace. Oh well.
Unsane — * * * * (4 stars)
I don’t know how he does it. Every time Steven Soderbergh makes a movie, I’m always leery about some aspect of it going in, and I think, “I know it’ll be fine, but will it be good?” And they’re always good. Without fail. This one was all about, “He shot it on an iPhone, and it sounds like a psychological horror movie… I don’t like the sound of either of those things.” Then cut to like 45 minutes into this movie and I’m loving it. And I tell myself every time that I need to not do that anymore, and yet it always happens. What I liked about this is that it did the Soderbergh thing of not focusing on the “movie” moments, and instead grounded it in the situations that you don’t really see. Which makes the “movie” moments feel more grounded and less obvious. Plus, the movie takes a decided turn about halfway through, which could have killed a lesser movie. Here, it only made me more intrigued. Like, “Oh we’re doing this? Okay, let’s do this.” I can always count on Soderbergh to make a very good movie. And unfortunately, all Soderbergh movies always feel entirely underrated. I can tell you right now not enough people have seen this or will see it, and it’s a damn shame because he’s one of the best filmmakers working and his movies are all a cut above nearly everything else out there.
Upgrade — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Fun little action movie. Blumhouse using their budget slots to do something other than horror. It’s basically a low budget Six Million Dollar Man. Though targeted toward the revenge factor. And it goes some darker places, which were cool. Maybe it did a little too much toward the third act… that “villain” guy with all the enhancements felt a little too cartoon-y, but I did enjoy him talking to the A.I. and it taking over to beat the shit out of people. That was cool. Overall a fun little movie. Don’t need to see it again, but well made and smarter than your average action flick.
Where Is Kyra? — * * * (3 stars)
This is that movie that people were (yet again… because three years can’t go by without this happening) campaigning for Michelle Pfeiffer to be nominated for. I had a feeling that if it were that strong, it would have come out before now, rather than being quietly dumped into three theaters and buried without any press. And that’s exactly what it was. Decent little indie. She’s fine. The movie is definitely framed around her performance, but I feel like the story was too slight to merit anything other than an okay indie effort. I never can get into these indies that mistake long close ups of someone’s face for story development. But that’s just me. Some people may love this movie. That’s cool.
Woman Walks Ahead — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Western. These always work better for me than they do other people. It’s about Jessica Chastain as a painter who wants to do a portrait of Sitting Bull. Very much about the perception of women and Native Americans in the Old West. Looks fantastic. Not the most engaging film. Twenty-five years ago it would have been in the mold of Dances with Wolves. Fifteen years ago, it would have been a Weinstein Oscar special. Now it’s just kind of a solid little film that’s worth a watch that most people will possibly happen upon in a few years. Doesn’t fully work, but it’s solid.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)
I loved this movie. I saw it at a 9am showing on a Saturday morning. The theater was about 70% full, and every single person in it was crying by the end of the movie. Mr. Rogers is one of those people that everyone around my age just knows. We grew up with him. Even if we didn’t watch the show necessarily, we were aware of it, and he was someone we were all familiar with. And this movie, while not taking any risks in doing so (which is fine. It didn’t need to), reminds you that, yes, he was that person in real life. And it’s just beautiful to watch. Sometimes you just need a movie to remind you that one of your childhood heroes really is a hero. For a while, and even maybe now, this was my favorite film of 2018. Which says more about 2018 than anything else, but still. This is a beautiful documentary, and I look forward to this not making the Oscar category in January and being outraged about it. Because that’s how the Documentary category works.
The Yellow Birds — * * * (3 stars)
Drama about soldiers. Didn’t really do it for me. The drama didn’t work and it just felt boring and overdone. Cast is good, but the finished product didn’t quite come together.
You Me and Him — * * * (3 stars)
A 90s rom com made in 2018. In the UK though. About a lesbian couple and the dude who lives next door. The older one wants a child, and the younger one is in her 20s and wants no part of that. After a fight, she sleeps with the dude next door, and gets pregnant. Comedy ensues. It’s… fine. Had enough laughs to keep me engaged. It did err on the side of realism over crazy comedy, which is why I’m more positive on it than I would be if it were, say, made in America.
Zoe — * * * (3 stars)
Drake Doremus movie. He’s definitely built a niche for himself in the high concept romance genre. This one is Ewan McGregor as a scientist who makes synthetic humans. That is, robots who look and feel like humans do. And he falls in love with one. It’s like if you took Ex Machina and made it a romance. It’s fine. Didn’t blow me away, but it had its moments. Lea Seydoux is good in it. Doremus has yet to wow me since Like Crazy. All of his other movies have been decent at best.
The Films I Haven’t Seen:
- The Seagull
- Hearts Beat Loud
- Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town
- Leave No Trace
- Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
- Unfriended: Dark Web
- Never Goin’ Back
- The Miseducation of Cameron Post
- Dog Days
- Madeline’s Madeline
- Juliet, Naked
- The Wife
- Operation Finale
- Blood Fest
- An Actor Prepares
- The Little Stranger
Favorite Movies So Far:
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
- The Death of Stalin
- Sorry to Bother You
- You Were Never Really Here
- Mission: Impossible – Fallout
- Ocean’s Eight
- Ready Player One
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