2018: The Year in Reviews (Part III)

And here we are. The final batch.

Tomorrow starts the end of the year proceedings and we’ll start wrapping up the year, month by month. Then it’s top ten. Then Oscar season starts. This is the pre-game show to all that fun stuff.

Of course, since the year is not officially over, there are still a handful of movies I’ve yet to see. Those will be noted and I will update the articles as I see them. But for now, here’s everything I’ve seen since the end of August through now.

And yes, that includes Little Italy.

22 July — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Paul Greengrass’s movie about the terrorist attack in Norway. I’m of very mixed feelings on this one. Each time Greengrass does a movie about a real event, I always wonder, “Why do we need this?” United 93 I thought was fine but am not overly enamored with. Captain Phillips I loved. This… even as I watched it I wondered what was gonna draw me in dramatically. The first 30 minutes are basically the dude planning and carrying out the attack, and for twenty minutes we’re just watching him murder a hundred people. Which — does anyone want to see that? But sure, it’s an event, so you gotta show it. Then the rest of the movie is just about the aftermath. How the victims are coping with it, the chaos in the moments after, families wondering if people are all right, the government wondering how this happened, that sort of thing. And then, it does this thing that’s so out of left field — the guy who did it, in prison, keeps saying, “I just want to talk on the stand and get my views out there.” Basically he wants his platform to say his beliefs. Which he shouldn’t get. And yet… the movie’s kind of giving it to him? I’m not sure how I feel about that. All this dude wanted was to have his beliefs out there, and here this movie is, allowing that. Sure, it’s well made and all that, but I don’t understand what the point of it was.

55 Steps — * * * (3 stars)

Oscar bait kind of movie that doesn’t quite work and sat on the shelf for a few years before quietly getting dumped on VOD. It stars Hilary Swank (who almost exclusively makes this Oscar bait kind of stuff now) and Helena Bonham Carter. Carter plays a mentally unwell woman who wants to sue her institution because she is not allowed informed consent in terms of her medication. Because she’s voluntarily there, but they basically treat her like she’s a dangerous lunatic and force her to take medication without telling her what it is. And Swank is her lawyer taking on the case. It’s very Oscar bait-y and is a true story. The film doesn’t quite work, though there is a better film somewhere in here. Shit happens. It’s watchable, though.

After Everything — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I almost missed this one. It used to be called Shotgun, and then they changed the title right as it was coming out and then quietly released it in October. I honestly didn’t notice until after it was out of theaters. I really only tracked it because Maika Monroe was in it. But it ended up being way better than I thought it would be. It starts as a regular romantic comedy, although just before the to become a couple, the guy gets diagnosed with cancer. So rather than get to enjoy being a new couple, the two are thrust into the most horrible situation imaginable. And we follow them from there on to see how the relationship changes and grows. I liked it a lot. It’s very indie, and has some issues, but considering that nobody knew this existed, I think this is a very worthwhile hidden gem for this year.

An Actor Prepares — * * * (3 stars)

You’ve seen this movie a bunch: estranged actor father has a heart attack and has to take a road trip with his son, who wants nothing to do with him. It hits every beat you’d expect, and is just as cliche’d as you think. But it’s got Jeremy Irons chewing scenery, which is fun. That’s really the only reason you see this.

Air Strike — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Chinese movie. I only saw it because they paid Bruce Willis and Adrien Brody to be in it. Bruce Willis takes his paycheck movies internationally. It’s terrible. I don’t understand how they think they can bridge the gap between China and the U.S. in terms of what films work in both places. But maybe this is like those Japanese commercials, and the actors figure no one over here will ever see them. Still, it is funny watching this and seeing Bruce Willis basically scream at a dude who clearly doesn’t understand a word he says, and he’s just sort of shouting because he has no real cue from the other actor to play off of (or doesn’t care to).

American Dresser — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Only saw this for two reasons: Tom Berenger and Keith David. I like them both and I like that they’re both still working. Berenger’s barely been in anything in like, twenty years. He pops up briefly in Training Day and is barely in Inception, but other than that, you haven’t seen him at all. David pops up in stuff, mostly in voiceover, but the idea that they’re in a real movie and are the leads is cool. It’s not a great movie, but I didn’t care. I will always watch a generic movie with older actors I like.

Ana y Bruno — * * * (3 stars)

It was all right. Animation style was creepy. Very much in that in-between stage between high level computer animation and very low grade animation. You know what this kinda looked like? A short film that would be nominated. That kind of style. Like, what was that one? The fables last year, with the big bad wolf and stuff. That’s kind of what this is. Mostly just okay. Middle of the road for animation this year, in what is a very weak year.

The Angel — * * * (3 stars)

Netflix movie. True story about the nephew of Egypt’s president who was also an Israeli spy. Solid enough. Spy thriller. Didn’t do a whole lot for me but it’s definitely worth a watch.

Animal Crackers — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Generic animated movie with an all-star cast. And an actually good premise. Family circus is about to go under and they get magical animal crackers that turn the person who eats them into that animal. And of course there’s the evil promoter who wants to get his hands on them, that whole thing. But the general premise could have made a much better movie. But instead it’s just kind of ehh. But hey, the premise is out there now and maybe someone can do something better with this one day.

Anna and the Apocalypse — * * * * (4 stars)

If the words “zombie musical” don’t do it for you, then I don’t know what to tell you. This movie is Shaun of the Dead with show tunes. It’s awesome. It’s only 90 minutes, but they set up the characters, give you two whole musical numbers and character development before the zombies, and then give you the zombie movie you’d probably get otherwise… with more songs. I loved it. This is exactly my alley, and there was no way I wasn’t gonna love it. The real key to this movie — aside from the musical numbers — is the fact that they try to ground it in emotion. And I think it works. You don’t really expect deep, Tennessee Williams stuff with musicals, but the ground on which this treads is actually quite solid. It’s not stuff you haven’t seen before, but it works for the product. Let’s not pretend this is trying to win awards or anything. It’s a very fun, very clever, very well-executed movie. You will have a good time with this, and that’s all you can ask for.

Apostle — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Netflix movie. I knew nothing about this, and was really drawn in by it. Gareth Evans directed it, his follow up to the two Raid movies. I truly didn’t know anything past that. And it’s just this fascinating movie set in a time period I am fascinated by. It’s colonial, and Dan Stevens comes to this colony to rescue his sister from a cult. So you get to this muddy, wooden town run by religious nuts. The whole thing is these shabby wooden houses. No guns, nothing like that. So it’s complete isolation without being isolated, if that makes sense. And he’s going around this town, trying to find his sister, meanwhile he becomes pals with Michael Sheen, the leader of the cult. And then there’s that whole friendship thing going on, meanwhile we get involved in some of the other people in town’s lives… I was really into it. Even when it gets sort of supernatural in the third act, I was fine with it. I just liked the set up. I can’t say I wish it had done something different, because this isn’t that kind of movie, but it did make me feel like there’s a lot of untrodden ground in this setting that could be really cool. Also, I know a lot of people just want him to shut up and make The Raid 3, but I’m totally cool with this different path he took. It shows he’s got real filmmaking chops and can create an interesting atmosphere and keep you compelled more than a lot of other filmmakers out there.

Aquaman — * * * (3 stars)

Look, it’s a DC movie, so nobody expected this to be good. Momoa is a good Aquaman, but he’s only as good as the material they give him. And this movie is a giant fucking mess. The problem with these movies over a certain budget is, they just edit the shit out of them to make them a giant rollercoaster ride. You know what the problem with rollercoasters is, in this analogy? You’re being whipped around from side to side and going up, down and around, but you don’t get to actually look at anything. This movie is just driving. It’s constantly moving, and never letting the characters or the situation or anything breathe. And then it ends with an inevitable giant CGI third act where nothing is realistic and none of the stakes matter because the underwritten villain is clearly gonna get defeated and the good guys will win without suffering any casualties. Why no casualties? Because the storytelling in these movies is so obvious you can telegraph when a major character is gonna get killed from forty-five minutes out. It’s another DC disaster, but are any of us surprised? I’d say this is Unforgivable, but honestly, we all knew what this would be, and they weren’t dependent on this movie to succeed. If anything, this movie’s success only ensured more Unforgivable movies in future years. Which might be the best cast scenario? Because I think at this point, they’re not gonna get any better. People are holding out hope for Wonder Woman 2 to be good, but it doesn’t have the element of surprise anymore. Best case scenario, you get Deadpool 2 with it — just kind of more of the same, not discernibly better in any way. This movie… there’s just nothing in it I will remember in two months, let alone a year. Maybe the fact that Julie Andrews voices a fucking kraken? I saw that and said, “What is this movie?” Remember when we used to be excited for a new Batman movie? Now anything that comes out with D.C. on the label I dread. Maybe don’t spend $160 million on dog shit, guys. Maybe try to make $35-60 million character pieces that are guaranteed to be successes and slowly build a core going forward and will only serve to make the $160 million movies work more because we already care about the characters. But, when a studio thinks teaming everyone together first is the way to go, I don’t think they’re gonna get the message.

Armed — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I only watched this because I tracked it. But as I watched it I wondered — why did I track it? It’s trying to be something bigger than it is, but it’s just not well made on any level. I don’t know. Don’t worry about this one. No one needs to ever see it.

Assassination Nation — * * * (3 stars)

Completely batshit crazy movie. A town’s personal data gets hacked en masse and they turn into bloodthirsty mobs, out to get the person they think did it. It’s violent, non-PC, and that’s what it wants to be. I wish it did a little more and had more of a focused point. But it was mayhem. So there’s that.

At Eternity’s Gate — * * * * (4 stars)

This is Julian Schnabel’s Vincent Van Gogh movie, starring Willem Dafoe. If that’s not enough to make you want to see it, I don’t know what I can say here. I’m not sure this is better than The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but this is a very well-put-together movie, with some beautiful imagery and a nice performance by Dafoe. It’s just a solid movie all around. I like it a lot. Though beware — it’s not trying to be a movie. So don’t expect the kind of thing you’d get from other films. That’s the key to enjoying it. There’s no narrative that tells a story and ends with, “Oh yes, this is why he painted these paintings.” This is more a series of vignettes that, together, give you a sense of who this man was. It works better than a traditional biopic would have.

Bad Times at the El Royale — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Well, it certainly wasn’t a very good time at the El Royale. This movie had such promise. Goddard is a great writer, and the cast is fantastic, and the premise was great. But, somewhere along the way, the movie just loses its course. I think it’s after that long shot of Hamm down the hallway. After that, it just loses steam and just kind of meanders to the big climax. I enjoyed it, but I’m disappointed because it could have been so much more. Maybe it’s because he directed it himself? I don’t know. There’s great clay here but it just didn’t turn into a full sculpture.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs — * * * * (4 stars)

I was not expecting this movie. I thought this was a miniseries for Netflix that was gonna keep us from a Coen brothers feature for another 2-3 years. And here we are. I remember checking in August to see when they were gonna start filming this, and I saw that it hadn’t filmed yet. Then out of nowhere, like two weeks later, it wasn’t a miniseries, it was a film, and surprise, out in November! That was a lot to process before I actually saw it. And now that I have… I think the best way to describe this film is that it feels like the B sides to a really great album. We know how great the Coen brothers are, and to say that this is a weak entry for them isn’t saying much, because this being their, I don’t know, 15th best movie would still make it most other directors’ third or fourth best movie. There’s a lot of amazing ahead of it. But still… it feels a lot like their Grindhouse. It’s cool, it’s fun, it’s good, but it’s not up there with their truly great stuff. And that’s fine. Now, as for the specific segments: first one, Buster Scruggs, hilarious. So much fun. Second one, with Franco… sure. Probably the weakest one, and feels too short. Seems like that was the one they cut the most out of. Third one, Liam Neeson and Dudley (that’s right, guys, that’s Dudley from Harry Potter) as the legless, armless actor… good, but really fucking depressing. That feels like it would be a minor story arc in a bigger epic. Feels like it needed more meat around it to work better, but still fine. Probably the second weakest. Fourth one, Tom Waits — or as I call it, “Waiting for Gold-ot,” awesome. Not my favorite, but very good. Top three though. Felt like I wanted more of it. Fifth segment, the wagon train with Zoe Kazan… really funny. Terrific work by her and Bill Heck. Runs kind of long, but it mostly works. That ending feels like it needed more build up to work as effectively as it is intellectually. Last segment… Stagecoach to Heaven… I’m torn on it. LOVE the set up, but felt like it was somewhat lacking, even though it cohesively brings the whole film together in a way. At least thematically. I’ll admit that I have a note somewhere from like five years ago, with the exact same set up for this segment. Of course, it was just the idea of “wouldn’t that be cool.” So it was weird to see them actually do it. (Not that anything I could have come up with would be anywhere near as good as this is. It was just one of those things where I knew what it was from the beginning, which kind of diluted the experience of figuring it out while watching.) Still, a solid segment. I feel like this is a film that is less than the sum of its parts, but the parts are quite good. And apparently they wrote them over like, fifteen or twenty years, which makes sense. They just kind of threw all the material together into this, which is why it feels a bit hodgepodge and like a bunch of B sides. Still, I’ll take Coen brothers B sides over most people’s A sides. Also, I feel like it must be said — not a fan of that Netflix look being draped over the whole thing. I know it’s their first film shot digitally, but it’s also Bruno Delbonnel, who shot Llewyn Davis for them, which was gorgeous. This just felt flat. Maybe because they shot it for a miniseries? It’s just not very cinematic. Or maybe they just don’t quite have digital down yet? Though I know they shot portions of things in the past digitally. I don’t know. But I definitely do not like the look of this movie, and I feel like that’s something I say about most Netflix movies. Something’s gotta be done about that. Because it’s a real problem.

Bayou Caviar — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

It’s Cuba Gooding Jr.’s directorial debut. How could I pass that up? Honestly, no fucking clue what this is supposed to be, but hey, it has Richard Dreyfuss in it, so I’m totally fine with that. I honestly didn’t care about this. It wasn’t awful, but it also wasn’t particularly good either. Hey, actors directing is always a mixed bag. I’ll give him credit for doing it.

Beautiful Boy — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I’d probably be crying foul about how Oscar bait this movie is if I just looked at it on paper. HOWEVER… based on a real story, so I’ll give it some leeway there. And directed by the guy who did The Broken Circle Breakdown, which is both melodramatic as shit and also great. So there’s some benefit of the doubt there too. Though I will say… kind of veers into the “too much” territory. Chalamet and Carell are good. I’m not gonna overpraise them. They’re good. I just wasn’t as in love with the material. Knowing it really happened is one thing, but it’s not like I haven’t seen “drug addict” done before. I don’t know. Some people might see this differently than I did. I thought it was perfectly solid, with solid lead performances, and a film that didn’t add up to a whole lot. Also… music choices might have veered into the “too on the nose” territory. Or maybe “hit me over the head too hard.” That might be more accurate.

Been So Long — * * * (3 stars)

It is a musical with a mostly black cast. And I am here for all of that. It’s a delightful little film. And it’s on Netflix, which means you can see it any time you want. And you probably should. It’s fun.

Bel Canto — * * * (3 stars)

This was directed by one of the Weitz brothers. It’s either the Grandma one or the Better Life one. I think it’s the latter. Let me make sure…. Nope. It’s the Grandma one. The other one had Operation Finale this year. They both have really eclectic filmographies. Who’d have seen that coming after American Pie? (Still all about that Down to Earth life. Shout out to About a Boy too.) Anyway, this is about a bunch of people held hostage in South America during a coup (I think). So basically they’re all in this embassy, and you have all the people and the soldiers holding them, and their relationship over the course of this long holdout. It’s okay. Never particularly grabbed me, but it’s watchable. And has Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe, which is cool.

Ben Is Back — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Nice little addiction drama. I was wondering where it was gonna go at the start, but it subverted my expectations, not going in all the obvious places. Of course, it goes in the obvious places in the last forty minutes (or at least takes a turn that doesn’t feel like the movie it set up), but overall, it’s more solid than I was expecting. It’s a small little movie, but worth seeing.

Better Start Running — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

One of these comes around every few years. That indie madcap action comedy with people on the run and over the top characters. But you have to remember, it’s an indie, so over the top is like when you have a muted trumpet. There’s only so loud it’s going. There’s a lot of “quirky” ground to fill up before you get to “loud.” It’s also a movie that tries to be funny but also have serious emotional moments when people actually get shot? It’s very weird. I don’t know what to make of it except to say — ehh.

Between Worlds — * * * (3 stars)

I don’t even know what to say about this movie. So I’ll just say this: Nicolas Cage stars as a widowed trucker. In the first scene, he hears a commotion at a truck stop bathroom. Inside, Franka Potente is being choked by another trucker. He stops him. She, rather than being grateful, says, “You ruined everything!” Turns out, she’s a medium. She can communicate with the other side and bring people back during near-death experiences. Her daughter has just been in a car accident, and she was trying to bring her out of her coma. Cage ends up helping her out (and fucking her). However, when Franka brings her daughter back… it’s not her daughter. It’s Cage’s dead wife in the body of her daughter. Who really wants to fuck her husband. Meaning Nicolas Cage’s dead wife is in the body of his girlfriend’s daughter and really wants to fuck him, meaning he’ll be fucking his wife, his girlfriend and her daughter. And that’s just the set up of this movie. If you’re not interested, there’s really not much more I can say in this review, can I? Though this moment does happen as well, so there’s that:

He reads from it. So yeah, he’s having a banner year for batshit performances. We needed one of these after the last few.

Bird Box — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Really solid post-apocalyptic movie. I was worried about where this was gonna go, but it held my attention throughout. Kind of got too simple in the end, with a sort of “Hollywood” ending, but I was pretty engaged all the way through, owing to a lot of famous character actors doing good with in smaller parts. Overall, it works. It’s the kind of movie that will do well on Netflix. Very solid, good performances, well-directed. Good stuff all around.

The Bleeding Edge — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Netflix documentary about vaginal inserts that break off and cause major damage to women. Fun, right? Yeah, I generally don’t care about documentaries like this, so this didn’t do anything for me. But also… sounds super painful, so also not something I really need to watch 90 minutes of. This felt like one of those where you could have said: “This happens, these people suck because they didn’t properly test it clinically, and these people are awful for taking money to promote them as safe,” and I’d have gotten it in ten minutes. Didn’t really need the rest of it. But that’s me with literally 90% of documentaries. So we shouldn’t be surprised by that at all.

Blood Fest — * * * (3 stars)

Okay, so there are two movies on this list with very similar premises and very similar names, so I need to take a second to figure out which one this is. There’s Blood Fest and there’s Hell Fest. One is a comedy, one is a horror movie. Both are horror movies, but one is decidedly funny, and the other is scary. This is the comedy. Got it. Okay, so this is about a bunch of horror fanatics who go to this giant horror festival, where the entire park is laid out like the different horror genres, where the performers can interact with the guests and all that. Only, once the “show” starts, the emcee tells them, “Surprise, this isn’t really a show, you’re all gonna get murdered.” And he’s got actual murderous people on the loose who are there to murder all the guests. So now all the people have to survive by knowing all the horror “rules.” It’s fun. It’s clever enough to work. A bit cheesy at times, but it works. Put it this way… The Final Girls is the only movie that manages to have fun with horror tropes and still tell an emotionally fulfilling story (and still the only movie that manages to have not one but two stripteases that are essential to the plot). This is more a clever way to have fun with the genre. It doesn’t fully go all the way with a satisfying story, but it’s definitely a fun movie to watch with friends. Also the writer-director plays the emcee, which was surprisingly not as much of a turnoff as I thought it would be. Check this one out, you’ll have fun for 90 minutes.

Boarding School — * * * (3 stars)

Holy shit, this was a weird movie. Kinda boring, but also kinda held my attention for stretches. Mostly I don’t quite get what’s going on with this movie’s main character. But we only need to get into that if you’ve seen it. Other than that, it’s one of those “mysterious school that might have ulterior motives” movie, but also with really fucked up students, and fucked up things happening… honestly I don’t know if there’s too much going on here or what. I’ll say this… it certainly gives you stuff to talk about, for better or worse.

Bodied — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is a movie about battle rap that was produced by Enimem and distributed by Youtube? Okay. It took me about ten minutes to settle into what this is, but then it won me over, and then it won me over some more. It’s 8 Mile, but like, the opposite. It’s about a dude who basically ruins his life by getting into battle rap. Like, you know those old 40s noir-ish boxing movies like Champion? Where you have the character who discovers he’s good at it and goes so deep to get to the top that he alienates everyone around him? That’s what this is, only with a white dude who can freestyle. I liked it. I thought it gave me way more than I thought I was getting. I’d definitely recommend this (though I will warn that there are some almost cringeworthy moments in it as well. But I’m also wondering if some of that was intentional, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt).

Bohemian Rhapsody — * * * * (4 stars)

I had so many concerns about this movie. Apart from the production troubles, my main concern was that the band was going to sanitize the story. And to an extent, they did. But I underestimated one thing — once that Queen music starts playing, it doesn’t really matter, does it? You’re gonna bop along and sing along and it’s gonna overcome a lot of problems. I don’t think this has any more problems than most musical biopics do. I could nitpick it. But I could also say, by the time they get to Live Aid, you want to stand up and cheer. As much as I was worried about Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in the first 20 minutes, by that time, it was like I was watching that set all over again. Which is to say, the movie did its job. It’s awesome. I could have asked for more out of a movie like this, but to be honest, what I got is so much more than I thought I was getting or that a movie with this production history probably should have had. So good on them.

Boundaries — * * * (3 stars)

This is that indie movie that came out of nowhere that I’d normally ignore, but then I see the cast and go, “I kind of have to see that, right?” It’s Vera Farmiga and Christopher Plummer, with some Kristen Schaal and Bobby Cannavale in there. Oh and some Peter Fonda action too. It’s generic indie road movie stuff with the estranged parent and all that. But I always like Vera Farmiga and Plummer is always fun. So I got enough out of it. It’s a solid three and not just a weak mercy three.

Boy Erased — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Joel Egerton’s second movie. The first one, The Gift, was really solid. This one was setting up to be a big awards movie. Mostly because of the cast involved and the subject matter. I was looking at it as a solid sophomore effort and a nice jump for Egerton to take, but all of a sudden this became “awards movie.” And I feel like that’s ultimately what led to me being disappointed in this. In reality, I should be thrilled that Egerton took a big step forward and swung high for his sophomore effort and mostly acquitted himself nicely. It’s solid. Hedges is good, Kidman is good, Crowe is good. I’m not sure the story amounted to a whole lot for me, but it was a perfectly solid movie. I like where Egerton is heading as a director.

Bumblebee — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I’ve always been predisposed to this franchise. So I was always going to enjoy this. Though, even I would admit this franchise burned itself out. Bay should have left after the third one. Okay, sure, he did a fourth, and it was fine. Too much, but fine. Still, he should have stopped there. The fifth movie was a tired, bloated mess. And even though I know why it turned out that way, it was what it was. But, this is a soft reboot for the franchise. A prequel that also pretty much stands on its own. Shows you that you can just dip in and tell any story within this franchise and it won’t really affect continuity (especially since Michael Bay — not exactly about continuity). Getting Travis Knight to direct this was a coup, coming off of Kubo. And the idea of turning it purely into an “80s” movie was a smart one. Now, a lot of people are saying this is the best Transformers movie since the first one. And the reason they’re saying that is singular — they actually tried storytelling in this one. That’s it. That’s really all you need. Rather than big explosions every ten minutes, they told a story about a girl who lost her dad and is trying to get her life in order. And she just happens to meet an alien who turns into a car. So while the first movie was about a boy and his car — this is about a girl and her car. It’s fun. It’s a fun family movie. It’s not perfect. John Cena’s character is woefully underwritten and so one-note it hurts. But a lot of it is cute and fun and Hailee Steinfeld really carries the day. It made me realize how little she works and how great she is when the material is worthy of her. This is about how Bumblebee lost his voice and how this character finds hers. It’s very close to what an 80s movie would have been (though to replicate one entirely is a style exercise not even this movie wanted to attempt. And probably rightly so). It’s not perfect, but it’s fun. And for a franchise that was really starting to run thin, this breathes some life into it.

Cam — * * * (3 stars)

I was very interested by this. It held my attention throughout, and I liked a lot about it. Of course, the eventual reveal was pretty obvious all along and it was weird that it took so long to get there. But as far as a Netflix movie goes… this was better than a lot of the stuff they put out there. Premise is — girl has started a cam show. She’s trying to make the top 50 of the website she’s on. She’s started doing fucked up things like faking slitting her own throat. But one day, she goes to log on, only to find out she can’t. And she discovers that someone is on her channel, doing her show for her. It looks exactly like her and is doing even more fucked up things than she did. And because of it, her life starts spiraling out of control. And the question is, who is this person, is this some sort of evil entity, what’s going on. Now, like I said, the ending is kind of a letdown, but the film itself is compelling and offers its actress a good showcase for her dramatic skills. You could do worse for Netflix movies.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I almost wished this movie was Unforgivable, just so I could have fun with that title. I will say that I was very hesitant going into this movie. I know Melissa McCarthy can handle drama, but something just made me leery about the whole thing. But Marielle Helle did Diary of a Teenage Girl, which was quite good as a first feature, and she’s moving onto the Mr. Rogers biopic, so clearly she knows what she’s doing. And this is a very sure-handed effort from her. Though I’m not sure the script was all there to fully get the most out of the story. There was something missing for me. Maybe I didn’t feel the urgency that drove her to doing it (they tried to give it to me, but I didn’t quite feel it), or the tension of when she got close to being caught. I don’t know. It’s fine. McCarthy is good, and Grant is good. Not sure this does a whole lot for me other than add a very solid notch on Marielle Heller’s filmography. It’s weird… I thought it would be worse from earlier in the year, then now I’m almost disappointed it wasn’t better. I guess because it actually could have been. So rather than meet my low expectations, it was just good enough that it didn’t go as high as it could have. Oh well.

Charming — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I thought this had a great premise. Too bad it was a D-grade animated movie that no one will ever see. Still, not a bad premise for an animated movie. I wish Disney would try something like this one of these days. Because lord knows we don’t need sequels out of them. It’s about Prince Charming, who is irresistible to all women. Every woman he meets wants to marry him… only he can’t fall in love. They turn it into a curse situation, but still, it’s a good set up. And the film is about what happens when he meets the one woman who isn’t charmed by him. I think there’s something here. The movie is neither smart enough or supported financially enough to get there, but there’s still a good movie here out of that premise.

The Children Act — * * * (3 stars)

Based on an Ian McEwan novel. Cool. Stars Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci. Cool-er. About a judge trying to decide if a parents should let a boy die for religious reasons or if the decision to refuse treatment should be his. Ehh, not so cool. In fact, kinda boring at times. I’m not really sure what the point of this is. Maybe the book is clearer? Because it seemed for a minute it was going down that road of “judge gets too involved and leads to her downfall.” But not really? I don’t really know what we got out of this. But it was watchable, and I like Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci. So I’m not gonna ask for much more than that. A lot of movies can’t even deliver that.

The Christmas Chronicles — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

So I heard this was happening in like, January. They said Kurt Russell was making a Christmas movie for Netflix and starring as Santa. And I said, “… okay.” Because I’ll never turn down more Kurt Russell. But man, was I not expecting anything that came from this. Basic set up: older brother, younger sister. Their dad died. The brother is one step away from eventual prison, the girl very much believes in Santa. They set up a video camera to catch Santa. They do, and end up crashing his sleigh with him and having to help him get everything back in order or else presents won’t be delivered. Pretty basic. Though they do work in some nice emotional stuff in there at times. Not enough to make it really good, but a fair amount. Meanwhile… Kurt Russell. First off, the way they write his Santa is great. He knows everyone by name, and knows everything about them, and will just openly say it. Not trying to hide the magic or any of that. Which is awesome. Oh, but also — this movie features him in a police chase with cops, and then has a musical number in a jail cell where he plays with the E Street Band. It just gets more and more outrageous, and I was here for ever minute of it. (And also, yes, the thing you ask yourself in the first twenty-five minutes, “Are they gonna go there at the end?” … yes, they go there. How could they not?) This was an absurdly fun movie, and I enjoyed almost every minute of it. Some people go for A Christmas Prince and The Princess Switch… this is the one I go for. Highly recommend seeing this one.

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

So the first Christmas Prince movie was almost kinda charming. I remember seeing it and thinking, “Wow, this is almost a classic rom com.” Still looked cheap and was kinda poorly written outside of the fifteen minutes of interesting stuff. But then, out of nowhere it created this whole weird Christmas subgenre of movies about fictional countries and people marrying into royalty. And it’s all the same production company. So you have The Princess Switch and Vanessa Hudgens watching this movie on TV, which means they must be building some sort of weird cinematic universe with these fictional royal countries and are eventually gonna try to cross over, because at this point, this is what clickbait cinema is built on. Oh, but yeah… not a great movie. It’ll appease the people who wanted more of this story or want the Netflix equivalent of a Hallmark Christmas movie. And hey, some people want that, so who am I to talk shit? Some of them are actually kinda fun.

Clara’s Ghost — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

What a strange movie. Stars the entire Elliott family, and clearly feels like it’s them amusing themselves. Didn’t do anything for me at all.

Climax — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This movie is insane. It’s Gaspar Noé’s new movie. So… Irreversible, Enter the Void, Love. Dude makes movies you remember. This one is just… okay, so here’s the set up: a bunch of dancers are in a warehouse for a weekend to practice a piece they’re working on. It’s the last night, and they’re letting off some steam by having a party. However, during the party, someone puts LSD in the punch bowl. And people start Losing Their Shit. It starts with this unbroken eight minute dance scene, and then over the course of the movie, we see the place slowly descend into a literal hell on earth. It’s insane. It’s like a 95 minute movie, and I found myself in the theater sitting totally still for like, a straight hour. I noticed at one point that I hadn’t moved my arms for a very long period of time. It’s that kind of a movie. You may love it, you may hate it, but goddamn if it isn’t gonna give you a visceral experience you won’t forget any time soon. This movie is really good. And if you get the chance to see it with other people, take it. Nobody fucks with your head like Gaspar does.

Cold War — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is by the director of Ida, which was quite good. This looks just as good as that did, if not better. It is a gorgeous movie. I’m just not sure the storytelling is all there. But it’s still a very good movie. And it’s the kind of thing where, when I stopped paying attention to what was happening, I was able to just look at it. Because it’s stunning. If this isn’t nominated for its Cinematography, it will be a travesty. That said, I don’t think it comes together as a film quite as well as Ida did.

Colette — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

For those who’ve seen other Wash Westmoreland films (Still Alice, The Last of Robin Hood)… it’s more of that. It’s a solid character piece for a good actor, but ultimately the actor is better than the film around them. The film is just sort of good, good-plus. Keira Knightley is very good here, but the movie is just fine. It doesn’t go anywhere particularly interesting and it doesn’t hold together like the kind of film you’d want to rally around as one of your favorites for the year. I just kinda liked it. That’s about it.

Creed II — * * * * (4 stars)

First off, major props to this movie for the roman numerals. I know this franchise has maintained that throughout, but still… not something anyone does nowadays, so I’m a huge fan of them continuing that. That’s the kind of thing that would honestly have swayed me if I were on the fence between a 1/2 or a whole number rating. Didn’t need it, but it would have. Let’s also start by saying… not as good as the first Creed. We all know that, we acknowledge that. Because the first one had something to say, and told an emotional story by a very talented director. This mostly just continues that and is an audience-pleasing sequel. I will commend them for trying to go more emotional than we’d normally get, even going so far as to give Drago an emotional arc. That’s cool. But it’s still not the first one. And that’s fine. I thought the drop off wold be more severe, but I forgot just how goddamn crowd-pleasing watching a fight in a Rocky movie is, when that music starts up. Overall, this did exactly what I needed it to. Jordan’s solid, even though they did that sequel thing of turning him into a little bitch for part of the movie (though props to them by actually having him tell his baby, “I’m sorry, Daddy’s being a little bitch.” That was hilarious). Thompson is good, though they struggled to give her enough things to do. Stallone feels more along for the ride in this one, which is fitting and also kinda good. That last one was half Rocky, half Creed. This one is 80% Creed, and clearly ends with the kind of thing where — this is Creed’s franchise going forward. And that’s good. The only question is how fast in the sequels that they kill Rocky off for good. I don’t necessarily think they will, but there’s gonna eventually be that moment of him in the graveyard talking to the tombstone that’s become a motif in this franchise in the last couple. But still, nice that Stallone still fit in there, and it was a nice sendoff for his character, even though the last one was a bit more fitting. Still, it’s nice. I like that they gave more meat to the Drago fight and made it fit as much into the character development as they could. I’m also glad they didn’t have any Russian hacking jokes. That was nice. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s a solid movie with the nostalgia factor working for it. I feel like I’m overrating this slightly, but I also think the first one was slightly overrated, so it all kinda works out in the end. I like this franchise and I like these movies. I’m not gonna ask for more than that. Though I do want to see them give this run a satisfying trilogy. I don’t want them to leave it at two. Give me a good third one. The franchise deserves it.

Cruise — * * * (3 stars)

Weird movie, but one I was interested in from the start. By the director of Big Fan (who also wrote The Wrestler). It’s about an Italian guy who falls for a Jewish girl in the 80s. Very local, just like Big Fan was. And I thought it could be good. It started off interesting, but then it went off into a weird place for the third act. This could have been the little movie I championed for being an interesting little rom com, but I had to look elsewhere, because ultimately it doesn’t hold up. It started off okay, though. I’d call this more worthwhile than people think. Let’s go with that.

Damsel — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is by the guys who did Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, one of the underrated movies of the decade. This is their subversion of the western genre. It’s the kind of movie that you should know as little about as possible going in. As long as you understand western tropes, you’ll be fine. The basic premise, as you’ll find out early enough: Robert Pattinson has arrived in the west to get his sweetheart, who has been taken by another man. You’ve seen this set up before, and that’s the point. But this turns every trope you understand on its head, and goes places you don’t think it’s gonna go. It’s darkly funny, and really terrific. Highly recommended. It’s one of the hidden gems of the year.

Destination Wedding — * * * (3 stars)

The selling point of this movie is that it stars Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. It’s written to be a classic rom com. Two strangers meet in an airport and immediately dislike each other. Surprise, they’re next to each other on the plane and are going to the same wedding! And now they have to interact with one another all weekend. Of course they go from hating each other to finding stuff in common to falling for each other. You know what it is, and there’s nothing remotely unique about it. However, seeing them act together is fun. It also looks like they shot the entire movie in long takes, doing them only once. The two of them do long dialogue scenes together, and it’s just weird. Keanu looks out of place, but in a good way. And Winona just seems half a step shy of being crazy (which I think might just be her). But that was the joy of this for me. Watching them do these long, Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn long takes, doing pages of dialogue at a time. I wouldn’t want this to look any better than it does. This is a throwback movie, and it’s the kind that either you’re gonna get and go with or the kind that you want no part of. You were either sold going in or you’re not gonna bother.

Destroyer — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I generally have not been a fan of Karyn Kusama movies. Granted, I’ve only seen two, but the last one I saw (The Invitation) I was not a fan of. And this one just felt like it was gonna be an acting showcase for Nicole Kidman and nothing more. So going in I expected one of those movies where you go, “Yeah, the performance is good, but the movie around it was just whatever.” And, I’ll say this — the performance is good and the movie around it is also pretty good as well. Not gonna say I loved this movie, but I honestly thought I wouldn’t care about it outside of the performance. I was actually engaged here. The slower pace made it feel more like a proper detective story, even if some of the detours weren’t my style. Still, very engaging police drama.

Dog Days — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Ken Marino has directed two movies in two years, and I can officially say I hated both of them. This is an ensemble movie centered around people and their dogs. So like, Valentine’s Day, but with dogs instead of a holiday. It’s generic all the way, and borderline offensive in how generic it is. And how tone deaf it is with a lot of the comedy. It’s just… yeah, I really didn’t like this. I’ll leave it there, just in case I do end up having more to say about it in a few weeks.

Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Gus Van Sant just chugs along with under the radar movies. Milk was his last big one. Since then, he’s really only hit the radar occasionally. And even this, which has Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black — nobody really remembers this coming out. It barely made a blip on the radar. It’s weird. I kinda get it, because the movie’s just sort of okay. It’s trying to be a sort of American Splendor of sorts, but it’s just kind of okay. Phoenix is fine, Hill is good, Mara has almost nothing to do, and Black has a solid extended cameo. It’s worthwhile, but it’s not particularly memorable. Gus Van Sant seems to be very hit and miss. Every other one seems to work. So here’s hoping the next one is the one that does.

Dragged Across Concrete — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Zahler, man. Dude’s made three movies so far, and the first two were great. Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99. I’ve been sending people to those for three years now and getting them to fall in love with them as I have. And this is his next movie. Originally billed as a “Blue Lives Matter” movie, with Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn, I did go in with a slight bit of apprehension. But, having seen the last two, I was very ready for this and knew it wasn’t gonna be as simple as that. And it wasn’t. It’s not that. This is a crime story. It meanders, it has all sorts of characters. It’s like a giant universe funneled into a two-and-a-half hour movie. It’s overdone, but it’s engaging. Basic premise: Gibson and Vaughn are cops. The opening sequence is them busting someone. During it, they are caught on camera performing excessive violence and as such are suspended. Gibson, needing the money (cop salaries aren’t exactly amazing), hears about a guy coming in with money and decides he’s gonna take it. That’s really all you need to know. Things go from there. And it’s very interesting. It doesn’t go to the fucked up places that Zahler’s other movies go, but it’s still an interesting genre exercise. He’ll do some things that work and don’t work, but mostly you’re left intrigued that he gets to do this kind of storytelling on the big screen. Jennifer Carpenter shows up like 90 minutes into the movie and gets a whole subplot out of nowhere. And you just go with it. It’s a very unique movie. I’d definitely recommend it because Zahler is a singular filmmaker who has yet to get his due. I think the first two movies are better movies than this, but this is not a disappointment by any stretch, and is only making his filmography even stronger. This isn’t out until next year, so people actually can, in the meantime, take my advice. Before you watch this, watch his first two movies. That’s the way to do it. This is good, but it works because you see the ensemble and the stylistic techniques he’s been building. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorite people to look out for when he has a new movie.

Dumplin’ — * * * (3 stars)

Interesting little Netflix movie. Daughter of a local beauty queen decides to enter the beauty pageant as a sort of “fuck you” to Mom. It’s more than that, but that’s the basic plot. What I like about this is that it’s designed to undercut all the usual tropes and norms. For instance, the main character is overweight. So you expect people to make fun of her and call her names — which they do (the title is a reference to that. Her mother calls her that as a term of endearment, even though it’s also kind of an insult). But the movie also undercuts even that, because most of the people around her don’t even see her as different, even though she herself does. And one of the really interesting things it does, if you’re paying attention — every time you see her, she’s always either not eating or eating a salad. Her mother will cook and make all this food and tell her to eat more, and she’s never hungry. It really undercuts all the preconceived notions and images you have about a character like this. Which I really liked. Ultimately it’s about a bunch of misfits banding together to compete in a beauty pageant. There’s also drag queens and a shit ton of Dolly Parton music (leading to Dolly herself writing a song for the end credits). It’s the kind of movie that, even though I didn’t like it more than “just okay,” it’s a really solid movie and worth seeing. It’s smart and touching and has a solid message to it. And it features a character you don’t really see on screen that isn’t a walking stereotype. I recommend this one.

An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn — * * * (3 stars)

I feel like there’s always one weird Aubrey Plaza comedy each year. This one is so off-the-wall. The director made The Greasy Strangler, which I haven’t seen, but I imagine is a lot like this. It’s got a very particular performance style. Well, by most people. Plaza seems to do her own thing. But everyone else has a very particular rhythm to their dialogue and performance, that is designed to be purposefully weird. Didn’t entirely appeal to me, but I was interested in it as part of an exercise. It also does give Emile Hirsch a fun role, which he hasn’t really had in a few years. This… is not for everyone. I was okay with it, but I suspect this is very much a “love it or hate it” kinda film.

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir — * * * (3 stars)

Interesting movie. It’s a completely unoffensive, nice movie. You know those movies where, you come home, and your parents have been watching them on cable when they’re on for the last six months? This is that ind of movie. You’ve never really heard of it, but it’s just kind of pleasant. That’s this. Completely fantastical and fictional, but also kinda fun. Not for everyone. Watch a trailer. That’ll tell you everything you need to know. If if sounds like it might be for you, then go for it.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald — * * * * (4 stars)

I have an affinity for this universe. So that might color my read of things. Either that or this franchise is better than people are giving it credit for. I don’t know yet. I loved the first movie, even though I was aware that it didn’t quite capture the magic of the original series. This one… less so. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I feel like they took a lot of strange left turns (especially with the ending, and how certain characters were handled), and I feel like they’ve worked themselves into a weird corner, where the franchise is based on one character, yet clearly trying to tell a story that doesn’t really involve that character. But, like I said, I like the world. So I enjoyed the movie. I’ll keep watching them, and I’ll keep enjoying them. I feel like this may be a bit of a low point, but it’s also possible this was the movie that had to do the legwork of shifting the franchise from one direction to another. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens in number three. Remember, the last #2 was Chamber of Secrets, which was fine, but a bit lesser in terms of the other movies. And then they followed it up with Azkaban, which is still considered one of, if not the best of the original films. So maybe this is gonna take off from here. We don’t know. All I know is, I like these movies, I will continue to watch them, and I’m perfectly fine with this franchise.

The Favourite — * * * * (4 stars)

Holy shit, Yorgos. Which I feel is what he goes for every time he makes a movie. You don’t make a movie like The Lobster without looking to fuck with people’s heads. This is arguably his most straightforward movie, which is saying something. Because it’s just so fucked up. Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone — all fantastic. This is the period piece for people who hate period pieces. It’s fucking hilarious. This might be Yorgo’s best movie. And it feels of a piece with his others, which is also so bizarre. I really want to see this again, because this was quite the experience. This might go down as one of the legitimate best movies of 2018.

The Festival — * * * (3 stars)

Comedy that takes place at (basically) Glastonbury. Guys go, one after a bad breakup, and mayhem ensues. It’s… it takes a really safe and obvious route and really doesn’t end up that interesting. It’s a great set up that you haven’t really seen taken advantage of before, and this one definitely does not do that.

Final Score — * * * (3 stars)

This is Die Hard in a soccer stadium starring Dave Bautista. You in yet? This was way more fun than the generic VOD movie I thought I was getting. I almost went 3.5 stars on this. I really enjoyed it. At one point he rides a motorcycle through the mezzanine while getting shot at and jumps the bike off a roof. It’s nuts! Big fan of this one. It knows what it is and is just a fun Netflix kind of watch.

Fireworks — * * * (3 stars)

Anime. Was okay. It’s a high school anime, which I’m not usually for. But I got through it.

First Man — * * * * (4 stars)

It’s interesting that both Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins again have films come out in the same year. Their careers seem forever linked now because of what happened in 2016. And while both had amazing films that year, the likes of which almost necessitate a step back…. it doesn’t feel like either one really took one. Chazelle went the safer route, in a way, tackling a biopic of an American hero. So the floor was only so low for him. But you know what? He really acquitted himself well. This was the kind of movie where, if it worked and was successful, he wasn’t gonna get a lot of the credit, because it’s about Neil fucking Armstrong. The story is what sells it. But Chazelle, man… from the opening scene it became obvious just how he was gonna tell his story, and he really made the most of it. This movie is made better because of how he directed it. First, he uses Gosling’s eyes to tell the story, allowing the audience to read his face to learn what’s going on with the character. Which is a bold move, and one that pays off. The other thing he does, which better win this movie at least one Sound Oscar, is show you just what kind of balls it takes to go into space. Most other space movies, even Apollo 13… they don’t truly make you feel what it’s like. This movie puts you right in there. It’s loud, and the ships are shaky, and everything feels like it’s seconds away from breaking apart at all times. They don’t try to give you gorgeous space shots. They situate you firmly in Armstrong’s shoes, even when you’re on the moon. And it works. So not only is this a very strong film, but Chazelle manages to put a directorial stamp on the whole thing that makes it even more impressive. And Gosling is good in this, Claire Foy is good (though with a pretty thankless role). It’s just a good movie.

Free Solo — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Remember that movie Meru from a few years ago? Well this is that, but to the extreme. It’s about a climber who decides to climb El Capitan without any safety equipment. And it’s nuts. The views are great alone, but it’s a portrait of this guy (and all climbers, really), who just needs to do this. And it’s tough because even the filmmakers know he could just die at any moment. The early part of the documentary is interesting, but it really takes off the minute he starts the climb. And even that is compressed (because obviously you can’t show the whole thing in its entirety), but man, is it thrilling.

The Front Runner — * * * * (4 stars)

Jason Reitman is fully back. He was in the wilderness for a few years with Labor Day and Men, Women and Children. Tully felt like a tune up film, that was solid, but not quite as impressive as the stuff that put him on the map. This is that film. Reitman really impresses from the opening shot, which is a shot he doesn’t normally do. He’s not one to call attention to the filmmaking, but here, he does an Altman-esque opening shot, where he moves all about the scene, introducing all the different characters and drifting in and out of conversations. It’s an incredible and bold start to a movie that has something to say. It’s got so much of something to say that I need to see it again before I really digest everything it’s trying to say. I feel like this is a movie that puts everything out there in such a way that it doesn’t matter what you pay attention to, because there’s always something to pay attention to. It’s incredibly done. Plus, Hugh Jackman is terrific, Vera Farmiga is good, if underutilized, and a lot of the cast fells well-placed within their roles. The writing here feels really strong, and this may be one of those movies that only gets better for me each time I watch it. Very impressed by this.

Galveston — * * * (3 stars)

Crime movie based on a Nic Pizzolatto book, starring Ben Foster and Elle Fanning and directed by Melanie Laurent. That’s about as interesting as it gets. Very slow, tries to be moody, I guess? I don’t know. I like when actors direct, but I also don’t know if I thought this was anything more than okay. Still, solid enough that I’d watch another movie from her.

Game Changers — * * * (3 stars)

Documentary about game show hosts… hosted by Alex Trebek. We all love game shows, and this celebrates their hosts. It’s cool. Not amazing as far as documentaries go, but I’d rather watch this than most of the stuff they put out there.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

We all knew it wasn’t going to be as good as the Fincher one. There was gonna be a drop-off. That was expected. I feel like even despite that, there’s still something missing from this. And I think I know what it is. Fincher, despite making a movie based on an international bestseller, told a story and focused on the characters. It didn’t feel like a “Hollywood” movie. This, feels like a Hollywood movie. There are set pieces, there are action beats. You can feel the action beats coming. She has a motorcycle chase with police at one point. That’s not what this story is about, and if it is, you transitioned us into it way too fast. This feels like any other Hollywood movie, only with a character we already know pretty well. So it’s slightly more interesting, but there’s really not a whole lot here of interest. Because there’s a plot to this. And what I mean is, “Oh no, the hacking algorithm got stolen, we need to find it!” So it’s like if your interesting heroine who is about saving women from men who hurt them got tangled up in a movie plot. She shouldn’t be in a movie plot. And that’s the fault of this movie. It’s worth watching, and solidly made, but it’s not what a Dragon Tattoo movie should be, based on what we’ve already been given. It’s just weak.

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween — * * * (3 stars)

The first Goosebumps was fun. This one, less so. Still fun enough to be enjoyable the once, but it’s a lesser sequel. Of course most sequels are lesser than the original, and this one doesn’t fall that far from the first one. But as far as this franchise goes, it’s inoffensive family stuff. Nothing wrong with that. Not great, not terrible.

Green Book — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

Well count me surprised. You mean to tell me the Oscar bait movie that the guy who did Dumb and Dumber made is actually good? Not only good, but great? Damn. Who saw that coming? Viggo Mortensen is terrific, Mahershala Ali is terrific. The writing, most importantly is really good. That’s what makes this movie work as well as it does. This is the Hidden Figures of this year. That movie that’s just a crowd pleaser. The kind that everyone in the family will see and really enjoy. It’s just wonderful. For something I didn’t even think would come out this year because, “How could it be good enough for an awards push” is legitimately one of my favorite movies of the year. Honestly could not have seen that one.

The Grinch — * * * (3 stars)

Why did they do this? Why make this? And why let that studio make this? The fucking Minions people? You took a timeless classic and put “2018” on it. This is already dated. And cheesy, and dumb, and just a bad idea. I’m so upset that they did this. the problem with it is that it’s watchable, which means some people will like it. If it were just a complete disaster, we could all just forget about it and move on. This one will hang around, and maybe even get a sequel! Please, just stop. Illumination has made exactly one okay movie, then spent the next seven years ruining it with sequels, and are now moving on to ruining existing good things. Please, somebody stop them.

Halloween — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I got excited for this when they announced it. Because David Gordon Green is not a horror filmmaker. Which meant maybe he had a take on this franchise that wasn’t the same old shit it’s devolved into. And they took interesting angles to it — bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis, John Carpenter scoring it, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross doing a new theme. But the execution left something to be desired. There’s like, an hour of setup to this movie. All of which feels tedious and overdone. The reporters don’t need to be there, the trauma of Curtis’s character is overstated. They’d have been better served having her act it and letting the audience lean into it rather than hitting us over the head with it on every piece of dialogue. And then once the killing starts, it’s just mayhem for the purpose of mayhem. Like, he’s going around murdering people, and they all get their moment of set up and then get killed and we move on. It just feels like, “Okay, and here’s our montage of deaths!” We want the final showdown, but even that felt a bit labored. I just wanted more out of this. Sure, it’s the best Halloween movie in 20 years, but let’s not pretend like the first two still aren’t the best in this franchise. The first is so good you could just pretend it stopped there and be fine. It’s possible to like something and be disappointed in it at the same time (for example, most people’s relationship with me). That’s what I am with this movie.

A Happening of Monumental Proportions — * * * (3 stars)

Judy Greer directed a movie. I’ve always said I like when actors direct and will often go out of my way to see how they do. And here, she acquits herself mostly well. I think the writing is what did her in, but ultimately this is a watchable movie. The comedy is of a time (namely fifteen years ago), but the actors do their best and there are some good moments in there. A lot of it goes the way you’re expecting and a lot of the comedy is such that you see why it’s supposed to be funny or what they’re going for. I’m just not sure it actually makes you laugh. Still, the entire movie is worth it for the moment near the end of the film where Keanu Reeves drags Common into a bathroom, stands there for a second and then says, “Okay, now pull your cock out.” I will leave it to you to figure out the context of that statement and let you see the movie if you decide you want to know.

The Happy Prince — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Movie about Oscar Wilde’s last days. Rupert Everett wrote, directed and stars. It’s very much a period piece. The kind of thing the Weinsteins would have forced into Oscar contention 20 years ago. Here, it’s completely forgettable, and just sort of a passion project for an actor. So I respect that he went for it and made it… I just don’t like the movie.

The Hate U Give — * * * * (4 stars)

Was not expecting this. I was cynical about it, figuring they made another generic YA movie that just happened to be about gun violence and were trying to make it seem like it was really good. But no, it’s a really good movie. It’s using the YA genre and tropes to sell you a message. It’s not totally successful at it, and there are problems, but man, when this movie works, it works. And most importantly, this is a movie that gets kids into it by being another YA movie at first, and then sells them a message that they need to hear. It’s like hiding medicine inside your dog’s food. Fantastic performance by Russell Hornsby as the dad, and also by Amandla Stenberg in lead. They’re both really good here. And there’s so much to like about this movie, to the point where I’m forgiving of the aspects I don’t like as much. This is one of the better films of the year, and I’m really happy it is.

Have a Nice Day — * * * (3 stars)

Chinese crime movie. Very stylized, wants to be like all those cool American crime movies. It’s pretty well done. Not amazing, but better than you’d think. Given the lack of great animated content this year, at least this one is different from the norm.

Hearts Beat Loud — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This finally got me to know who Brett Haley is. He made two underseen indies, both of which got pushed for awards contention without ever really being noticed — I’ll See You in My Dreams and The Hero. Both of which were okay. This, though, this is very good. It keeps with his previous tradition of sort of handing his movies off to someone from the previous one. Sam Elliott was a supporting player in I’ll See You in My Dreams, then was the lead of The Hero, which had Nick Offerman as a supporting player, who then is the lead of this movie. It’s about him as a record store owner who seems to shirk responsibility and whose daughter is about to go to med school. Since his wife died, she’s been super serious about school, while he just wants her to jam with him in their family “band.” He discovers her book of poems/lyrics and has them record a song together. And the film is about their relationship as this “band” of sorts between them gets going and as his record store starts failing. It’s a really sweet little film. Kiersey Clemons plays his daughter and is very good, and he’s fantastic, and the film is very good. It’s definitely a hidden gem for 2018. Check this one out. Great songs, too.

Hell Fest — * * * (3 stars)

Okay, so this is the horror version of Blood Fest. That is, two movies with almost the exact same premise. This is the one that goes for scares instead of the comedy. Bunch of people go to a horror nights theme park where the performers get to walk around and interact with the guests. Only one guy (their “horror” character, like Freddie or Jason) has gone there with definite intent. Basically, he’s walking around, picks one group of people, and slowly stalks and murders them over the course of the night. And of course, the people who work at the park and the other guests don’t understand what the hell these people are talking about, because it sounds insane. Meanwhile they’re slowly disappearing and being picked off one by one. It’s solid for what it is. It’s an interesting little movie, and honestly, give me this over one of those supernatural bullshit horror movies any day. At least here, I can buy the set up — crazy dude shows up in horror park and starts murdering innocent kids. I get it, I’m in. This could happen. It’s not, “Random creepy house is haunted and people get possessed and murdered.” Nah. Fuck that. I think I prefer the comedy version of this premise to this one, but this one worked for me. I obviously don’t love horror, so my reaction is tempered, but as far as the genre goes, I like this entry.

Hold the Dark — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Jeremy Saulnier has made two really great movies, Blue Ruin and Green Room. So naturally I had expectations for this. And it looks gorgeous. But it’s a movie about people fighting wolves, and it may have a bit of a supernatural element to it? I’m not really sure what this is going for, and I’m disappointed in it if only because he’s raised my expectations for his output so high that when I’m left with something pretty good that I didn’t quite get, it feels like he could have done better. It’s a perfectly fine film, but I don’t think this nearly captures what he was able to in his first two movies. Very weird choice. It’s the kind of movie where you’re like, “I feel you elevated weak material. What if you had something better to work with instead?” It’s a step back for him, but he was already pretty far ahead, so it’s not like he can’t recover from it. I’m still excited to see what he does next.

The Holiday Calendar — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

God, did I not like this. Woman gets a magical advent calendar, where all of the objects she pulls from it randomly end up appearing in her day. Like, oh, a pair of boots, and here’s a friend getting her a nice pair of boots. And then there’s this, and oh look, she just met a really nice guy. That sort of thing. It was just so cheaply made and so badly written. This I bet was from that studio that makes all these Netflix Christmas movies, and this is exactly the kind of bad, lazy filmmaking that makes me leery about the whole thing. I left this at indifferent, but I almost actively disliked this movie. It was close.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls — * * * (3 stars)

The weirdest thing about this movie is that it was directed by Eli Roth. And… it may be his best movie? It’s a fun family film. If you grew up with Goosebumps and things of that sort, you’ll get the tone of this pretty quickly. And it’s fun. Jack Black, Cate Blanchett… this is a very enjoyable movie. I feel like anyone around ten years old would really enjoy this. I’m glad movies like this are still getting made.

Hunter Killer — * * * (3 stars)

Submarine movie. They’ve been trying to get this one made for at least six or seven years. Honestly I wish I cared more. It’s watchable, but it’s boring generic instead of fun generic. The kind of action movie you forget about and never really wanna go back and see. Nice to see a movie about submarines and Russians where Gary Oldman is not doing a Russian accent.

I Think We’re Alone Now — * * * (3 stars)

The set up is intriguing — man survives what seems to be an apocalypse, and is the only person left. Then suddenly… someone else appears. And the film is kind of about their relationship, kind of… well, pretty much just the relationship? Because then it takes another turn, and I kind of lost interest. Because it stopped being about the premise and was about other stuff. Ultimately wasn’t for me. Kind of spoiled an interesting hook.

If Beale Street Could Talk — * * * * (4 stars)

Barry Jenkins, man. This guy’s the real deal. You thought maybe there would be a bit of a slump after Moonlight, but no. There isn’t. I saw this way early so I’ve had like two and a half months to ruminate on this before everyone else got to see it. And man, am I more impressed the more I think about it. This is fantastic. He keeps a lot of the stylistic choices that made Moonlight look so great while also making this its own unique film. This movie is of its own self. Stephan James and Kiki Layne are both terrific here, and the movie just loves showing us their faces, on which the world is written. Regina King has the showy, standout performance as Layne’s mother. But man, did Colman Domingo, as her father, really stand out for me. He is amazing here. There’s a lot to love about this movie, from the incredible (full stop) living room scene between the two families, to the show-stopping ten minute monologue from Brian Tyree Henry, to the  sequence with Regina King traveling. This movie is just an experience. And while it doesn’t feel as special as Moonlight did the first time you watched it, this is an amazing follow-up, and one I cannot wait to see again. It’s one of the best films of 2018.

Instant Family — * * * (3 stars)

All everyone said to me was, “This movie isn’t as bad as you’d think. It’s got a lot of heart and is really touching.” Well yeah, it’s touching. So it went to 3 stars instead of 2.5. It’s still a generic comedy for the first half hour. The rest is kind of a drama and works to an extent. And there is heart in it in the end, but it’s still not great. It’s by the Daddy’s Home guy, and it’s still featuring people who are barely humans. The human drama is undercut by bad comedy. At least there’s not shit and dick jokes and things like that. But still, the way they do comedy now, it doesn’t come from character. And for a movie that’s trying to do character, it hurts it. So yeah, it’s better than you thought you’d get, but it’s also not a huge achievement. This was good enough that it left me wanting more, rather than not caring or hating it. So I guess that’s something?

Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town — * * * (3 stars)

Really solid little indie and great showcase for Mackenzie Davis, who is one of the most underrated actresses working today. It starts with her, hungover and waking up from a one night stand, realizing she needs to get all the way across town in like, five hours, with no money. So it’s one of those movies. She slowly makes her way across town, meeting various people and getting into detours along the way, all of which inform what exactly is going on, where she’s going and why she needs to get there. I wish it were better, but that’s just my way of saying, it’s a good premise and fairly well executed. I wanted to like it more, but it’s just pretty good. Mostly I’m just excited that Mackenzie Davis is starting to get out there and become more well known.

Jane Fonda in Five Acts — * * * * (4 stars)

Incredible biopic. It’s structured around the men in her life — her father Henry, her first husband, her second husband, her third husband, and then finally just her. It’s a beautiful depiction of a very particular journey, and she’s there all the way, telling her side of things and being very honest about it all. It’s quite good. There are a number of documentaries about people this year, but this one is the strongest of them all. It manages to give you everything you’d want and more. Highly, highly recommend this one.

Johnny English Strikes Again — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Didn’t we say all we needed to say with the first two Johnny English movies?

Juliet, Naked — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Solid movie. Indie, but it works because of the performances. Chris O’Dowd is a guy obsessed with this 90s era songwriter who made one album and then disappeared. He’s been running a blog that obsesses over the guy’s whereabouts, pours over the material that’s out there, and is basically just a nut job for this guy and his work. Meanwhile, he’s been dating Rose Byrne for like, a decade, they’re not married, and he’s completely taken the relationship for granted. Meanwhile, an acoustic cut of the album he loves so much ends up in his lap. Byrne, fed up with his obsessions, writes on his blog a comment, shit-taking the album and his obsession with it. Little does she know, the actual guy, the songwriter, responds to her. And she starts an email correspondence with him and then an actual friendship. He turns out to be Ethan Hawke (perfectly cast), and then we find out what he’s been up to all this time (spoiler: it’s normal and boring), and an interesting dynamic develops between everyone. I really liked where it went. Slightly peters out toward the end, but overall it held my interest and had some really great performances. By Hawke especially. This is one of the more underrated gems of 2018.

Katie Says Goodbye — * * * (3 stars)

They held this on the shelf for two years and basically dumped it on VOD even more quietly than most VOD movies. There’s a sort of sequel (I guess?) that is shot, finished and likely coming out next year. Weird… stuff all around, with this one. Stars Olivia Cooke, who I loved in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and is just kind of okay. Very indie, probably not great, but I thought it was watchable. Given how ignored this is and how no one really knows about it, my guess is it’s probably not worth seeing. But if you like Olivia Cooke, go for it.

Kin — * * * (3 stars)

Expanded from a short. Kid finds futuristic weapon. It was whatever. I bet the short was more interesting. A lot of times when they expand a good short it never turns out great because the story just feels stretched out and forced and goes into places that make it more generic.

The Kindergarten Teacher — * * * (3 stars)

Netflix movie. Weird one, at that. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a teacher and a failed poet. And she sees that one of her students, almost effortlessly, is a gifted poet, just rambling off these brilliant poems almost innately. So she becomes obsessed. It’s an odd one. I’m not sure what the point is or what the real motivations are for her throughout this movie. It’s fine, I guess, but it doesn’t amount to much of anything for me. You’re just kind of left watching this plot unfold, not really knowing why any of it is happening. Wasn’t totally for me. There are better Netflix movies out there.

King of Thieves — * * * (3 stars)

Old guy heist movie. Michael Caine, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay. You’re seeing it for them. That’s really all it is. It’s generic-plus, but the cast is amusing. You know what you’re getting.

The Land of Steady Habits — * * * (3 stars)

Nicole Holofcener movie. She makes watchable stuff. Generally it all falls into the 3 star realm for me, but I recognize her as a good filmmaker. Ben Mendelsohn is good here, and it’s probably best that she made this for Netflix, because I think more people will see this than might otherwise go to the theater to see her movies.

Latin History for Morons — * * * * (4 stars)

John Leguizamo’s new one man show. I LOVED Freak back in the day. And Sexaholix was great too. Somehow I missed Ghetto Klown and really need to go back to that one. But this is his new one, and it’s appropriately mature, and well-written and performed. It’s structured around his son coming to him after being bullied at school and wondering why there are no Latin heroes throughout history. And that’s what gave the special its title. It’s a history lesson from him, showing the importance of Latin Americans throughout history. It’s wonderful. I’m here for every special he wants to do and am always here to tell people to keep putting him in movies, because he’s one of our most underrated great actors.

The Laws of the Universe – Part 1 — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Didn’t like the first one, didn’t like this one. So we’re pretty much on par with where I’d have expected to be. Anime isn’t my thing, especially when it’s like this. This was never gonna be for me.

Leave No Trace — * * * * (4 stars)

Debra Granik is back. Her first movie since Winter’s Bone, and an incredible follow up to that. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie are both amazing here. This is an adult drama and one of those movies that just captivates you. It’s not trying to sell any messages or make any grand statements. It’s just about these two people and their story. And it’s emotional. Big fan of this movie.

Life Itself — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This movie was so maligned I wasn’t sure what I was gonna get from it. But I liked it! What’s wrong with being overly sentimental? Sure, sometimes you get Collateral Beauty. But sometimes they work. This one… probably doesn’t totally work, but it’s also not a piece of shit either. I think it’s perfectly fine. It’s got good moments and bad moments, like any film. It tries to tie it all together in a way that I’m not totally on board with, but I found myself mostly engaged with it, so I’m giving it a thumbs up. Sue me.

Little Italy — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I’d been tracking this one, but somehow the internet managed to get a hold of it. The poster came out and everyone went, “What the hell is this?” Because it’s a cheaply made indie movie starring 37-year-old Hayden Christensen and 27-year-old Emma Roberts. You know what this movie is? Romeo and Juliet in pizza places. Their families have pizza places next door to one another. They used to work together until a falling out between the two fathers. So now, they operate next door to one another, and are constantly feuding (though mostly through amateurish pranks). They’re all very Italian, and it has a slew of Italian actors like Danny Aiello in there. Meanwhile, of course, the two of them are gonna fall in love in the middle of all this. You know the story. It’s very on the nose and not great. However, I will say, moments of the romance were kinda charming on top of the broad, bad comedy. And the worst thing this movie does — about an hour into the movie, I’m watching, and they straight up tell you, this is Little Italy in TORONTO! It’s CANADA! It’s fucking Canada! Are you kidding me with that shit? Just because you shot there doesn’t mean you have to set it there! How you gonna have Italians not in New York? But yeah, this isn’t great, but it is almost watchable. I wouldn’t recommend it, necessarily, unless you’re gonna sit with people and do it to make fun of it. But it’s not as bad as that internet meme-ing over the summer would have had you think. But really, though — fucking Canada?

The Little Stranger — * * * (3 stars)

I was hoping it would be better. After Frank and Room, I was excited for anything Lenny Abrahamson was gonna do. Then they announce what this is, and it didn’t sound great, but I was in regardless. Then the trailer… wasn’t psyched. Came out, reviews were fine, no one saw it, and it disappeared. Which told me everything I needed to know. Then I finally saw it… and it’s just fine. It’s slow, boring, doesn’t really amount to anything. But it does look nice. It’s fine, but it’s not what I wanted to se out of him after those last two movies. I guess he wanted to take a left turn and do something different, but this one didn’t do it for me.

Liz and the Blue Bird — * * * (3 stars)

High school anime. Was all right. Glad it wasn’t supernatural, but also the kind of thing that only went so far for me. It’s by the director of A Silent Voice, so it feels about right. It’s kind of in that realm in that I was fine with it but didn’t overly love it.

Lizzie — * * * (3 stars)

Lizzie Borden movie with Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart. It was whatever. I think even the cast feels this was a bit of a disappointment.

The Long Dumb Road — * * * (3 stars)

Decent little road movie. Jason Mantzoukas and Tony Revelori. Overachieving kid and underachieving adult traveling through the southwest together. It’s fine. Doesn’t amount to anything totally interesting, but it does have moments and I was engaged throughout. Very indie, but watchable.

Love and Bananas: An Elephant Story — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Nature documentary about elephant poaching and the people who have a sanctuary to protect them. Not for me at all.

Love, Gilda — * * * (3 stars)

Gilda Radner documentary. Love the idea, love her, but I was left wanting more. Can’t explain why, but I just was.

Lu Over the Wall — * * * (3 stars)

It was fine. The Little Metal-maid? Pon-Yo MTV Raps? Mermaid drawn in by kid’s music playing, and they start a cute relationship. It’s fine. Nothing more.

Madeline’s Madeline — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Well this was a hell of a movie. Surreal as hell. Hard to explain. But I can say, it’s got an amazing lead performance by Helena Howard, in her first film. She is worth the price of admission alone. She gives what might be the best performance of the year. The general plot is — a girl who takes acting way too seriously begins to prepare for her next role, and it starts to mess with her sanity. Kinda? Don’t focus on the plot. Just expect very surreal kind of visuals (and an incredibly surreal climax). It’s more about the ride than the destination. Not for everyone, but I am a big fan of this movie.

Malevolent — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Horror-thriller thing. One of those “is it supernatural or not” kind of movies. Brother and sister are fake mediums who go conning old ladies by “resurrecting” the spirits they think are in their houses. Though this one might actually be haunted. And bad shit happens. It’s whatever. But Florence Pugh is in it and it showed up on Netflix. That’s the only reason I watched it. Otherwise there’s no point to seeing this. Nothing of value here.

Mandy — * * * * (4 stars)

What in the hell can I say about this movie? It’s nuts. And we knew it would be nuts and expected it to be nuts, and honestly this allows Nicolas Cage to be nuts again properly. When he has a great director behind him, he can really let it rip and know it’s gonna work out. Without that, he just seems bored. Bored or unhinged and not properly reigned in. Here, the weirder the better. Panos Cosmatos is a visual marvel. He makes this movie an experience, when it could have been some generic cult thriller. This is the kind of movie — just watch it. Trust me and watch it. People are already talking about it, so you already know what it is. Watch a trailer if you want to get an idea. This is one of the best gonzo movies of the year, and makes me happy that it might allow us to see Nicolas Cage in some real movies again soon.

Maquia: Where the Promised Flower Blooms — * * * (3 stars)

Animated Feature eligible. Looked nice, was fine. Didn’t love it. It’s hard to get more than this for me out of an anime.

Mary Poppins Returns — * * * * (4 stars)

Well this was delightful. It’s pure candy, but it carries on a proper Mary Poppins tradition and doesn’t let the original down. The original is perfect, and we all know that. This.. it works. Emily Blunt was a fine casting choice, and she acquits herself well. She’s basically a supporting character for the film, and feels like she’s in the background for a lot of it by design. But she’s fine. Lin-Manuel Miranda is good, even though he gets some semi-ridiculous stuff to do in the third act. The kids are fine. The cameos mostly work. Colin Firth — did he need to be a straight up villain? Meryl is Meryl, doing her thing. Probably too much, but whatever. Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer as the Banks kids grown up are good. Angela Lansbury is in this! Dick Van Dyke! He’s so awesome. He’s the highlight of the movie. And the adventures are fun. All reminiscent of the first film, but that just means there’s hand drawn animation. And even when there isn’t the CGI isn’t so over the top that it was disgusting. I felt myself easily swept away by this and feeling the kind of joy I felt watching the original film. Nothing can compare to the original, but this is a worthy successor in a lot of ways. You could do much worse for a Mary Poppins film, 50 years later.

Mary, Queen of Scots — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I was so disappointed by this. I wanted to love it so badly. Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie? I was hoping this would be an acting showcase like The Lion in Winter or those other 60s royalty dramas. But it’s not. It’s not about them, really. Or it is, but them separately. It’s not about their relationship, and that feels like the biggest misstep this movie took. It looks great. The costumes are great, the sets are great, and the actresses are both very good with what they’re given. I still think there could have been so much more here. The two only interact with each other once in this movie. I was joking that this was my Batman vs. Superman, but I really wasn’t expecting that to be literal. One scene? And after that one scene (which is very good), there’s an entire movie that happens that we don’t see! Weird, weird choices with this one. I wanted this to have a shot at my top ten. And instead it’s just a pretty good disappointment. Damn shame.

McQueen — * * * (3 stars)

Documentary about Alexander McQueen. Fashion isn’t my world, so there was a limit to my interest in this. It was just okay for me. Didn’t really feel one way or another about it.

MFKZ — * * * (3 stars)

Interesting movie. Like Boondocks meets anime. Wasn’t really for me, but at least it was animated differently and took a different genre route than most animated movies do. So I’m glad for that. Otherwise — ehh.

Mid90s — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Let’s all just call this for what it is — Skatey Bird. It’s Jonah Hill’s version of Lady Bird. I’m not gonna compare the two, because they’re different movies. But as a debut, he really knocks this out of the park. It’s really good. It’s only 90 minutes but it moves. And a lot is accomplished within that space. The kids are all well cast, Lucas Hedges and Katharine Waterston are fantastic as the boy’s mother and brother, and it just feels like a version of how some people grew up. It’s a very strong debut for him, and I hope he continues making movies. You know I love when actors direct, so I hope this isn’t a one-time thing for him. It’s a really solid start.

Mirai — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is the best of the Japanese anime that are eligible for Best Animated Feature this year. I wasn’t over the moon about it, but it was very solid. It’s about a young boy’s struggles with his new baby sister. He’s worried that his parents are ignoring him and starts to act out. Meanwhile, one day he discovers, out in the garden, that there’s magic afoot. And he gets to travel through time, led by both his sister in the future and his mother in the past. And the family dog. It’s solid. Not the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, but it has a certain charm to it. And in a year like this where most of the animated movies are garbage, this is one of the better ones of the year.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Our second gay conversion movie of 2018. Technically the first, but in this article/alphabetically. Chloe Moretz is caught with another girl at her prom and sent to conversion therapy. It’s a weird compound in the woods run by people who really don’t seem to know what they’re doing. The movie is kinda interesting. I feel like the whole is less than the sum of its parts. John Gallagher Jr. is really good and Jennifer Ehle is very good. The movie doesn’t feel totally cohesive, or maybe I just felt disconnected to it because this isn’t my experience and I look at it like, “This whole thing is a fraud, and how come people don’t know that?” And it’s because the people who run places like this and the people who send their kids there don’t know it. So I get it. I did like this movie.

Mortal Engines — * * * (3 stars)

Well, we all knew this was a giant disaster waiting to happen. I guess because Peter Jackson produced it and did the effects, they gave them $100 million. But there was no way this was gonna work. And surprise — it’s a generic YA movie on at least double the budget a YA movie is normally made on. The setup is kinda interesting, but it’s based on source material, so you already know it’s gonna be dumbed down and go the normal routes that you expect. They don’t do anything of interest here. So really you’re just left with a movie that looks like a waste of $100+ million.

Mowgli — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is not the Disney version of The Jungle Book. This one’s more brutal. The characters aren’t the ones you’re used to (namely Baloo). There are no songs. But it is Andy Serkis, and the animation is interesting, because it’s all mo cap and you can see the actor’s faces in the animals. Overall, I liked it. It’s got a good tone and it’s doing some interesting things. Didn’t love it. Kind of descends into the usual “Hollywood” movie by the third act, but overall, it’s solid. It’s not fun without the songs and things and after the other one, no one’s really gonna see this, but it’s worthwhile. It shows Andy Serkis as a really solid director who knows what he’s doing, and I hope he keeps it up making interesting things both in this realm and in the live-action realm (like Breathe).

Nancy — * * * (3 stars)

Interesting little indie. Nice showcase for Andrea Riseborough. It’s about a woman who becomes convinced she was kidnapped as a child and is really the missing daughter of a couple she sees on the news. It’s indie, but it works. Nice performances.

Nappily Ever After — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Netflix comedy about a woman about to get engaged who values her hair above everything else and eventually has to (or does) shave it all off. That’s the movie. It’s got more going on, but it doesn’t add any depth to it. It’s fine, and there are things to like about it, but overall, I just wasn’t really invested in any of it. There are dozens, soon to be hundreds, of Netflix original movies, and this is in the tier of forgotten, “whatever” ones.

Never Goin’ Back — * * * * (4 stars)

LOVED this. This is Inside Llewyn Davis for dropouts. A week in the life of two girls, and you get the sense that this is every week of their life. They’re about to get fired from their job at any moment, the rent is due again, their roommates are getting them into some shit, they’re fucking up in some way, and they long to get away to the beach. And it’s just one endless cycle. This movie is so good. It’s perfectly written, all the actors are great, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful debut by Augustine Frizzell. This might be the hidden gem of 2018. It’s so fucking good. I love this movie a lot, and I want people to see it.

Next Gen — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Generic Netflix Big Hero 6 ripoff. That’s all this is. Not for me.

The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl — * * * * (4 stars)

This is in the running for my favorite animated movie of the year. I loved it. Once I heard the premise of this, I was sold. It’s about a girl on an all-night bender. That’s really all you need. There are detours, adventures, romance, side plots — it’s awesome. Mostly it’s this girl who just goes around getting drunk all night. And it’s awesome. If you’re gonna look for some non-American animated movie to watch this year, I highly recommend this one.

Night School — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Has Kevin Hart made a movie I liked? I’m not counting Jumanji as him, because he’s part of a whole there. Central Intelligence is him and The Rock, and even that was just okay. Otherwise… no… nothing he’s starred in I like. And surprise, this is no different. It’s a comedy with a basic premise that does nothing interesting. I hate comedies when no one follows any basic logic. None of the characters are people. Tiffany Haddish is the only character that feels like remotely a real person, which is crazy, because she’s always the one who gets to go off and riff and just be the loud person saying funny stuff. This is not a good movie. And all comedies seem to be following this same kind of format today, and none of it involves creating characters and making comedy out of character and story. Why are we slowly killing the comedy genre with bad movies?

Nobody’s Fool — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Tyler Perry movie. It got to indifference by actually featuring a real narrative and having Tiffany Haddish who just sort of said and did whatever she wanted and kept the movie from feeling listless and like a loose compilation of vignettes. Still haven’t met a Tyler Perry movie I liked, but these movies aren’t for me.

The Nun — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Horror movie based on one of the Wan universes. Conjuring, I think? I saw those movies, didn’t like them, and surprise, I didn’t like this. Horror movies don’t do it for me, especially when they’re supernatural, and especially when they feature possessed clergy. This was just a triple whammy of things I just don’t give a fuck about. And here we are.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms — * * * (3 stars)

This is the equivalent of a sugar rush. Just a mess of colors and sounds and things and nothing of real value. But it’s also the kind of sugar rush where — you’re not even sure you liked the candy. It’s based on the ballet, but they dispense with that story almost immediately and it turns into this generic mess of big budget studio action. Think Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, where you’re like, “Is this the story you wanted to tell from that? We’d have been much more interested in a more straightforward retelling.” Because this one bombed, and everyone could have seen that one coming. Honestly, you get more out of just listening to the ballet itself, or watching the Fantasia sequences on it. I get why they tried to do this, but this was just overproduced on every possible level.

The Old Man and the Gun — * * * * (4 stars)

David Lowery finally made a movie I really like. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was solid, but I wasn’t totally in love with it. Pete’s Dragon was fine. A Ghost Story looked great but was too artistic and boring for it’s own good. This one, though — this was great. About a real guy, who escaped from prison like 20 times, and in his advanced age, robbed a lot of banks. Robert Redford stars, and is wonderful here. And Sissy Spacek plays his love interest, while Casey Affleck is the guy after him and Tom Waits and Danny Glover play his partners in the robberies. I love that this movie takes a more character approach to things, not even showing you the big heist sequence in the middle of the film. Just straight up doesn’t show it to you, because that’s not the kind of movie it is. If this is Redford’s last film (and he says it is), it’s a great send off for one of the greatest legends in the history of cinema.

On Happiness Road — * * * (3 stars)

Chinese animated movie shortlisted for Best Animated Feature. It was fine. Nothing crazy good. Interesting, and I feel like if it were made by Japan/Ghibli, it could have been much better. But on its own, it’s pretty good.

On the Basis of Sex — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is not the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic that she deserves. But it’s the one we got. The real problem this ran into was that it came out the same year as a documentary about her. So I saw the documentary first, and was told a lot of incredible things about this women I already held in such high esteem. So when I got to seeing this, I was hoping for certain things to be in it. And instead, I got a very “Hollywood” version of her story. Certain scenes just felt like I was watching them be fictionalized and it just felt like they were going through biopic motions. The performances were fine, but characters felt like they were added for story sake, and the arguments before the court were good, but not as stirring as I was hoping they could be. I don’t know, this feels like a solid and admirable misfire. There’s so much in her story that could have been told, and this movie barely scratches the surface of any of it. So maybe the worst thing that could have happened was that I had more information than I might normally have in one of these things. It’s a shame, because Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer are both quite good here. They certainly tried, but it just kind of falls flat after a while.

Operation Finale — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

The Eichmann story is a fascinating one, and I’m not sure this movie perfectly captures it. It sounded good on paper — great cast, great story… but the execution isn’t all there. I feel like they tried to pull a Munich, where it’s more about the people trying to capture him than the man himself. And I feel like here, they needed more backstory. You needed to know just who this guy is and why they’re trying to capture him. Just using “Nazi” and some titles at the beginning isn’t enough. I don’t know… I feel like this is a missed opportunity. They could have done so much more with this material. And the movie’s just pretty good. It’s nowhere near movies of this sort, and while most people won’t even ever see this (though with the cast, it’s likely to be seen by people because of them), I’m very disappointed in how this turned out.

The Other Side of the Wind — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Orson Welles’ final film. Finally finished. This was released with a documentary, showing the long journey of this film to completion. I’m not sure if it’s better to see the film on its own first or watch the documentary so it makes more sense. I did the film first because I was mostly aware of everything surrounding it. That’s probably the way to do it. But you should also watch the documentary. As a film — this is very experimental. It’s also clearly somewhat autobiographical, no matter how much Welles refused to admit it. I liked it. It’s an odd one, especially for those uninitiated with later Welles, but it’s a very solid film. Definitely worth checking out. It’s also the kind of film where… there are lots of different interpretations of it, and that’s a conversation that can be had after you’ve see it, but it’s definitely a film where you can talk endlessly about what it’s actually about (if anything).

Outlaw King — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

It’s the unofficial Braveheart sequel. David Mackenzie’s followup to Hell or High Water. About Robert the Bruce, whose story happened concurrently with William Wallace’s. Stars Chris Pine, who feels like he did okay with the accent, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is awesome here, and Florence Pugh, who is starting to get a higher profile now, which I am all for. It’s a very solid film. Overcomes the “Netflix” look (for the most part), has some awesome battle scenes, and is just a solid movie. Drags a bit, not totally sure what they were going for with parts of it, but ultimately it’s just a really solid movie and a fine film. This is the kind of passion project you get to make once you have a hit like Hell or High Water, and Mackenzie doesn’t waste his opportunity. It doesn’t feel overly excessive or unnecessary. It feels like a really solid movie.

Overlord — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Pretty awesome World War II film. I was worried about this, because I thought it might be another Cloverfield movie, or just turn into a monster movie for no reason. This… it’s somewhat supernatural, but it keeps that in check for a lot of the movie. Mostly it’s just a hardcore, gritty World War II movie for much of it, which I appreciated. It’s got a good tone, and Julius Avery really directs the hell out of it. This is a very solid movie that I don’t think people were really expecting to be as solid as it was. Elevated genre is what this is. To the point where I kinda wanted it to be just a straight war movie, but I also really liked what I got, when normally I wouldn’t. Very solid film, this one.

The Padre — * * * (3 stars)

Generic crime movie with people I like. That’s the only reason I see these things. Tim Roth, Nick Nolte… Roth is a con man on the run from Nolte and he picks up a teenage girl who he teaches his tricks to. It’s fine. Nothing overly great. But I always will watch something like this.

Papillon — * * * (3 stars)

Did we need a Papillon remake? I mean, it’s fine, it’s watchable, but the original is SO good. This was never gonna be anywhere near that. At best it was gonna be “Good, but go watch the original instead.” Now it’s, “It’s fine, but why make it and just go watch the original instead.” Hunnam is good, Malek is good, the movie’s just okay. I can’t think of a single really positive thing to say about it other than, “Sure.” But seriously, go watch the original instead.

The Party’s Just Beginning — * * * (3 stars)

Karen Gillan wrote and directed this, apart from starring in it. I like when actors direct, and I was curious to see what she’d do here. Especially since she’s been oncoming the past two years with interesting performances, most notably in Guardians and Jumanji (she’s great in Jumanji). Here, she makes a movie set in her hometown, that’s kind of… the Inside Llewyn Davis of grief, maybe? She’s a woman haunted by her brother’s death who is just out, doing drugs, having sex with strangers and just kind of aimless. And it’s an interesting debut. She’s really going for it. It’s a really mature first film, and I appreciated it. Can’t say I loved the film, but it does make me want to see her make another one.

Peppermint — * * * (3 stars)

Jennifer Garner making a Liam Neeson movie. That’s what this is. Her family is killed, she becomes a vigilante. It’s exactly what you’d expect. Strains logic, but you’re not in it for the logic. It’s a perfectly solid three star action movie. You know what you’re getting all around with this.

Pimp — * * * (3 stars)

Very weird movie. I watched it just to get a sense of… mostly I wanted to see if this is a director I should be looking out for. And it was pretty well made for a first film. Not sure the writing was all there, but the actors gave it their all, and we got a DMX sighting, which is always welcome. Could have went to more interesting places other than a shootout at the end, but it is what it is.

The Possession of Hannah Grace — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

It’s an exorcism movie meets that horror movie from last year that takes place entirely in the morgue. So, possessed dead body fucking with people. Whatever. None of these things appeal to me.

The Predator — * * * (3 stars)

Shane Black made a Predator movie. Should be a slam dunk, right? Because if anyone could overcome the drawback of this franchise, it’s him, right? Turns out, not so much. This is a giant mess. I’m not sure what he was going for, but it doesn’t work. It feels like he made what his Predator movie was, and the studio made him cut all his humor out of it and focus on the story… which is the part of the movie I don’t want. I don’t know what to prescribe this one to, but I don know they went through “extensive’ reshoots. So I’m guessing that has a lot to do with the finished product of this. So I don’t know if this is unforgivably bad, but it is a major, major disappointment. This might be more one where, “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” Which sucks, because I didn’t really want Shane Black to make a Predator movie. His other movies have all been unique and interesting, even Iron Man 3. This one just felt… flat.

The Princess Switch — * * * (3 stars)

This was watchable. I’m very mixed on whatever this company is that is churning out Netflix Christmas movies based in fictional countries with monarchies. Some of them ended up being more watchable than I expected (though I expected them to be shitty, so does that really say anything positive?), but most of them are just bad. I don’t know. This one was better than I thought, but I thought it would be awful. Now they’ll make a sequel like A Christmas Prince 2 that’s not good. There are definitely worse things on Netflix, so I won’t get too down on this, but I’m not sure how I feel about this whole thing in general.

Private Life — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Tamara Jenkins’ first movie in eleven years, since The Savages. This one is about a couple (Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti) who are desperately trying to conceive via in vitro. And it’s about their attempts to do that and the stresses and toll it takes on them and their marriage. It’s really good. I underestimated this because it dropped on Netflix, but man, Tamara Jenkins… when she makes them, they’re good. You forget how good The Savages is. This is just as good as that. The characters are really well-drawn (clearly taken from her Jenkins’ own life) and it’s just so engaging. Hahn and Giamatti are fantastic, as is Kayli Carter, who plays their niece. My absolute favorite scene in the film is one where Hahn and Giamatti start talking, and eventually start arguing. And it’s like a five minute argument, culminating in Carter suddenly saying something, causing them both to look over and realize she’s been there the entire time. It makes sense in context, but man, is it wonderful. This is the kind of movie that feels real because it is real. I highly recommend this one, and it’s honestly one of the best movies Netflix has put out.

Puzzle — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Solid little drama. Kelly Macdonald is a bored housewife who discovers an ability to solve jigsaw puzzles. She joins with a man looking for a partner for the world jigsaw championships. It’s mostly a movie about her self-discovery. It’s nice. Ignores a lot of the tropes you’d see in these movies, but that’s probably owing to the fact that it’s a remake of a foreign film. Still, it’s a nice little gem of a movie and a showcase for Kelly Macdonald, who doesn’t get nearly enough of those.

Quincy — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Cool biopic about Quincy Jones. He’s a certified badass, and this documentary is nice, but doesn’t go near how cool he really is. There’s so much stuff I wanted to hear about that this doesn’t remotely go into. But still, nice that it’s there.

Ralph Breaks the Internet — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I’m so let down by this movie. It’s well-made and I already like the characters, so I was fine with the movie, and even was entertained by parts of it. But on the whole… I’m so disappointed in this. They took a great movie and just ruined it immediately. He has to go viral on the internet? Really? The plot of this movie is just disgusting on a lot of levels, and they spend like 15 minutes jerking themselves off by saying, “Look at all the characters we own!” That’s not okay. I’m very upset by this. I can’t even go into it now. This is a disaster. And this is why you don’t do sequels, Disney!

Replicas — * * * (3 stars)

Keanu Reeves thriller that was gonna come out, then wasn’t, and now is getting quietly dumped in January. But at least it’s not VOD, right? It’s… generic. But he’s fine, and it’s watchable. Just one of those I never need to see again. They happen.

Reprisal — * * * (3 stars)

Bruce Willis paycheck movie. The joy for me now with these is seeing which moments he was clearly not on set for that they had to use a double for. Here, there’s a REALLY obvious one in the first couple minutes, when Frank Grillo (who is really the lead of this movie) leaves for work, and Willis is just sort of outside, working out. And it’s so CLEARLY a body double it’s blatantly obvious. I hope they knew it would be obvious and left it in to show you he refused to be there for that shot. But it’s also the kind of movie where, they’re just happy they got Bruce Willis to be in it and that it would be seen by people. And honestly, as far as that goes… totally watchable. I mean, we all know I’m predisposed to stuff like this, but this one was more solid than most. Basically, someone comes and robs Grillo’s bank, and he’s upset. And suspended. So he goes to retired cop neighbor Willis to hunt down the guy, who seems to like these audacious heists, and they try to track him down and confront him. It’s fun.

Reversing Roe — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Documentary about the right-wing’s attempts to overthrow Roe vs. Wade. Whatever. And by that I mean, the documentary, not the attempt. The attempt to overturn it is a big deal and should be known by more people. I’ll leave the politics out of it and just say — another example of a documentary that could have been covered in 15 minutes. I’m not a documentary person, so I get what they’re going for pretty much off the bat, and the rest just feels monotonous to me. If you came for in depth analysis of a documentary, you should know by now… you’re not getting it here. At this point it’s shocking that I even tolerate a documentary, let alone like one.

Ride — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

It’s Collateral, only with no stakes. Uber driver picks up a hot chick, drops her off, then picks up a dude who tells him to drive him around places for a big tip, only the dude ends up being a nut job who ends up holding him hostage. It’s only like 70 minutes, but it doesn’t do anything interesting at all. The worst part for me was that it all takes place in and around Hollywood. so the streets they’re talking about — I drive down those streets. So for one, the second unit shots of streets they cut to as they’re driving… horrendously out of place. And it’ll be the kind of thing where they pick up someone on Hollywood Boulevard and say, “Drop off at Franklin Avenue.” Which is literally the street above Hollywood Boulevard. Yet the driving scene will take several pages of dialogue and multiple cutaway shots that make it seem like they’ve been in the car for ten-plus minutes. I know it’s a minor quibble, but when you really know the area and a movie just butchers it’s geography like that, it’s really hard for me to pay attention to anything else. Especially when the film isn’t giving you much of anything to pay attention to otherwise. I will say, they would cut away to things that would make me go, “Oh yeah, that’s Wilcox just below Fountain.” They never mention it, but I just know it by sight. But when that’s also mixed with some really horrible internal geography, I can’t give it props. That’s honestly my biggest gripe about the movie. It’s one thing to be shooting around a city for a chase or something, and basically be using the same blocks all cut up to make it seem like they’re traveling, even though in reality it’s like a four block radius. This is one that’s about an UBER driver. So to not just write in, “Hey this is Studio City and I’m going to Hollywood,” makes me wonder if any thought was put into continuity in this movie. Because some of the Uber rides in this movie are walkable at least 30% of the time. Also, if you’re not someone who lives in LA, don’t listen to me. But also, the people who do… aren’t you glad you heard the “take Fountain” joke again?

Robin Hood — * * * (3 stars)

Did we need another Robin Hood movie? He said, remembering full well what happened with the King Arthur movie last year. I mean… it’s watchable. There’s a decent movie in here… but it’s too serious, it’s just not necessary in any way. And the cast is good! That’s the worst part. It’s just unnecessary all around. Anything that’s good about it is outweighed by how much it didn’t need to be this. Damn shame.

Roma — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

It’s a beautiful film. Clearly very meaningful to Cuaron, filled with little moments that one would remember from childhood. There’s so much to love about this movie. I’d say that it’s the most important film of Cuaron’s career, even if it may not end up being his best (time will be the only arbiter of that discussion). Without Chivo shooting this one, he becomes his own cinematographer. And I loved that he shot the entire thing in wide shots. It’s one of those films that lets you live in the world of other people (for real) for two hours. It doesn’t rush you, it just sets you down and lets you wander in these people’s lives. It’s fantastic. Cuaron’s made yet another incredible, incredible film.

Ruben Brandt, Collector — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Really fantastic visuals here. It’s about a psychiatrist who is haunted by paintings. And he discovers that his clients are thieves, so he enlists them to steal the paintings for him in the hopes that it stops his nightmares. And all the visuals and scenes are of those paintings… very surreal, people with multiple faces and eyes and stuff… it’s really fantastic. In a year with absolute garbage in the American animated field and stuff I didn’t really care for internationally, this is one I can get behind. This is the kind of movie that does things differently and doesn’t look like it was made on computers.

Science Fair — * * * (3 stars)

Documentary about kids competing in a national science fair. Honestly this is a Christopher Guest movie waiting to happen. For me, all these kids are way smarter than I’ll ever be, and I sincerely hope they all end up doing things that cure diseases and helping society rather than being bought up by pharmaceutical companies to develop things that never see the light of day because they’re not gonna keep them in business.

The Seagull — * * * (3 stars)

Fantastic cast, based on a famous “classic” play. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Because, the cast is the reason you see it, the fact that it’s a play like this… movie’s just kinda there. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it. Kinda boring. Because they’re speaking in play-speak, and the whole thing is stagey. Hard to make something like this more interesting, despite the cast.

Searching — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This movie is probably the best we’re gonna get out of the “entirely on a computer screen” device. It’s not a horror movie, and there’s no supernatural stuff to it. Which already made me for it. But it’s just a thriller about a man (insert title here) for his missing daughter by using all of her social media and the technology at his disposal. It was way more engaging than I thought it was gonna be, and rightfully deserved all those positive reviews it got. It’s so compelling that we all just sort of forgave how horrible that third act twist is. Any other movie, that would ruin an otherwise great thriller. Here, it still manages to be interesting, so whatever. I guess because a concept like this, we don’t really expect good writing, so one (albeit big) misstep is allowable. Still, I don’t think it’s gonna get much better than this. I don’t like the concept to begin with, so this being a really solid version of it is better than I thought I was ever getting.

Seeing Allred — * * * (3 stars)

Documentary about Gloria Allred. She’s a big figure and has fought for women’s rights for years. Cool that she’s getting out there and being introduced to hopefully a younger generation, the way Ruth Bader Ginsburg also was this year (only without the memes). The doc itself was just whatever to me. I always feel like I get the point in fifteen minutes and the rest is just telling me more shit I already know. I leave docs to the doc people. For me, I think it’s just worth people knowing who Gloria Allred is, however you want to get the information.

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero — * * (2 stars)

Atrocious low grade animated movie. Based on a real dog, but honestly it looks like it was animated by those people who put out the tugboat movie. It’s awful. Yet… eligible for Best Animated Feature. Wouldn’t that shock the shit out of all of us?

Shirkers — * * * (3 stars)

Fascinating documentary. A bunch of film buffs in Singapore made a movie in the 90s. And this is their story. But it’s more than that. Because the film had been missing/incomplete all that time, and there’s this weird undercurrent of the mysterious film teacher. But mostly it’s about people who love film making a movie, and looking back on it. It’s kind of like that Raiders fan film documentary, only with a much different ending. Though also, there’s the fact that it was made in Singapore, which is not really known for a big film industry, especially not the kind of movie that one was. This is worth checking out. It’s interesting. Great story.

Sierra Burgess Is a Loser — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

It’s high school Cyrano de Bergerac. Girl has a crush on the hot guy, and uses the pretty’s girl’s face in photos to make him interested while she is the one texting and talking to him on the phone. It’s actually a smart premise. Cyrano does work in today’s society. Problem is — movie’s not that great. Doesn’t totally work, even though it tries. I can see where it could have gone right, but instead it’s just a forgettable Netflix movie. There’s a lot of those.

A Simple Favor — * * * (3 stars)

It was nice to see Paul Feig doing something other than comedy, especially since I hate most of his comedies. I really only like Spy, of his movies. This one… it’s funny, but it’s not a comedy. I wasn’t as in love with it as others were, but the people who liked this are also people who… I know what their tastes are. They were always gonna go for this. For me, it’s fine. I thought for a minute about going 3.5, but I didn’t like it that much. I just liked bits and pieces of it. It’s a well-made movie, and I’m sure it deserves better than just 3 stars, but I didn’t like it more than 3 stars. Anna Kendrick is fine, although she really seems to like playing the same character over and over again. Blake Lively is fine. It’s definitely one of those films that I acknowledge as being good but don’t particularly care for. But I’ll leave it to the people who really liked it to recommend it. For me, it just gives me a reprieve from another Paul Feig comedy I won’t like.

The Sisters Brothers — * * * * (4 stars)

Was very excited for this. John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, WESTERN. I was in yesterday. And this is a very anti-western western, which I appreciated. It was a bit weird, but I will say that I liked what I saw. It was trying not to have all the obvious western scenes, and it was all the more unique for it. Definitely not for everyone, and I really want to see this on again. But man, was this fun. I’d recommend it for the cast, but I’d also say that you probably need to be a hardcore fan of the western to really love this one. I feel like a lot of casual moviegoers will be turned off by the things this one does. Or maybe not. It’s very funny in its own way. This movie gets more humor out of a toothbrush than I thought possible. It’s really solid. And sadly already overlooked.

Slice — * * * (3 stars)

This is that Chance the Rapper horror movie A24 was threatening teasing us with for a while. And then it quietly never came out, finally got dumped for one night only in theaters and put out on VOD the next day. Which clearly meant it wasn’t good. And surprisingly — not great. It’s a weird set up. A town where humans, zombies, werewolves, witches, and probably some other stuff all live together. And pizza delivery people keep getting murdered in zombie town, and then it ends up being a big conspiracy, and the pizza place is built on the gates of hell… it’s just chaos. Could have been more interesting, but it’s just weird-watchable and nothing more. And Chance the Rapper plays a werewolf. So yeah. No fucking clue how something like this got made a movie before it was a graphic novel.

Smallfoot — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Honestly the best thing to come out of this movie was the meme. Other than that, it’s an interesting set up and just a whatever movie. The problem is, when it’s not Disney or Pixar, it’s just not very good. Nothing that isn’t from them lasts. It’s forgotten almost immediately, or they make so many sequels (Shrek) the whole thing is just burned into the ground. This wasn’t for me at all. Meaning, I didn’t care for it, and it quite literally wasn’t made for me.

Speed Kills — * * * (3 stars)

John Travolta VOD movie. He’s actually making a career of these now. It’s about the guy who invented the cigarette boat and made a fortune in that, only to later be killed by the mob. It’s… not great. But it’s watchable. I’d actually say Gotti is a better movie than this. This is just kind of whatever. But it’s nice to see Travolta still working and still trying, more importantly. He could have hit Willis town, where he’s just in it for the money and not trying at all. So that’s good.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — * * * * (4 stars)

I will admit being way wrong about this. I had my reservations because it was Spider-Man. But you know what? This is a great movie. The animation style is what sold me on it. And there are moments that really made me laugh, like Nicolas Cage’s Spider-Man Noir saying, “I like to drink egg creams and fight Nazis.” But really, what bumped this from 3.5 to 4 is the animation style. American studios don’t take these kinds of visual chances. And that’s what I liked most about it. In a year where all the other animated stuff was outright bad, or just whatever, this one stood out as taking chances, having fun, and actually being pretty smart all around. It’s a good set up and it works. It’s a fun movie. Not perfect, but what did it need to be? This legitimately becomes one of my favorite animated films of the year, and I’ll straight up apologize for being so loud wrong about what I was gonna think about it. As far as being surprised goes, I did not expect this.

Springsteen on Broadway — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

Technically this drops at midnight. But I saw that shit live, son! So I feel like I can throw this on here now. I will have seen this by tomorrow morning, so we’re counting it. And I know I shouldn’t rate something before I’ve seen it, but look — I saw it live, and this is a taping of that live show. It’s not getting 5 because nothing can compare to seeing this in person. That said, it’s a fucking incredible show. Everyone should see this, just to see the master at work. Maybe I love this enough to move it up to 5 stars, in which case I will edit this and get rid of this sentence. But I think 4.5 about covers it and tells you just how amazing this is. Not sure how to rate this, since it’s not a documentary or a movie, but fuck, who cares. See this.

Stan and Ollie — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

There’s always one “old Hollywood” biopic each year that gets nominal awards attention. Last year was Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. They’re all generally the same. Solid, but a bit too schmaltzy or underwhelming to really contend or really be in your favorite movies of the year. This one — it was fine. Reilly and Coogan were good. The issue was that when they tried to do the comedy — it’s a style of comedy they don’t make anymore. So it’s not as funny. Because it’s not… I don’t know how to explain it. It’s funny to see Chaplin doing his thing. To see people now doing Chaplin… doesn’t totally work. Unless they’re complete physical comedians. So them doing the little bits was intellectually amusing, but not particularly funny. But yeah, solid 3.5 star movie, nothing more, nothing less.

A Star Is Born — * * * * (4 stars)

I was not expecting this. I love A Star Is Born, and I was excited to see this movie. But I truly was not expecting it to be as good as it is. Bradley Cooper being a first time director, the opportunities for him to not be that great at it, for the songs to not be great, for Lady Gaga to not give a good performance — there were a lot of pitfalls here. The story being so iconic both helped and hurt it. But somehow, Cooper was able to overcome it. Primarily with his direction. But the fact that all the other pitfalls were not only overcame, but solidly overcame, really was impressive. Gaga’s performance is very good, as opposed to just passable because of her singing and the nature of the role. Cooper’s performance, which I expected to be good, is great. And the songs are fantastic (save the shitty one that is meant to be shitty in the right way). But the direction — man, did Cooper direct the shit out of this movie. It exuded a confidence and an ability that I just could not have seen coming. From the opening scenes, he impressed me. And he kept it up. I could quibble about the last twenty minutes, but that’s just nitpicking. This is an incredible film. It was gonna take a lot for me

Studio 54 — * * * (3 stars)

It’s about the famous club. Exactly what you’d expect. Nothing overly surprising. Didn’t really tell me a whole lot, and wasn’t overly entertaining in showing me all the crazy shit that happened in the club. But, better than watching a documentary about some random political issue of the day. So that’s cool.

Suspiria — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

Probably my single most anticipated movie of 2018. I was so ready for this. I’ve been following this religiously since it started shooting. I was so ready for everything this movie had to offer. And you know what? Loved it. Took me a minute to orient myself to this new story and how Guadagnino changed it to fit what he wanted to tell. But man, was this awesome. I need to see it again to fully gauge my feelings on it (you cant just see that third act once and think it’s enough), but man, was this so great. I’ll decide how great over the next ten days. But this is just about everything I wanted it to be. It couldn’t have been everything I wanted it to be, because that’s not possible. But this — yeah, I loved it. Probably more on this in two weeks.

Tall Tales from the Magical Garden of the Antoon Krings — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Animated Feature eligible. Not great. Pretty generic animated movie. Not Z grade, but not great either.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

A really nice companion piece documentary to The Other Side of the Wind. Basically shows you how the film ended up being filmed in pieces, why it was never completed, and how it ended up finally being finished. Mostly it’s a portrait into Welles the filmmaker and the incredible bad luck he had in making stuff. It’s fascinating, and the exact kind of thing people like me love.

They Shall Not Grow Old — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Peter Jackson’s World War I documentary. I was in immediately. The whole thing is narrated, Band of Brothers style, but you never see the people talking. It’s just their voices. Constantly. And the rest is images and videos from the war, all remastered and colorized. They colorized 100 year old footage, which is just insane. It looks so good. Trench foot in color though… not fun. But he also does some amazing visual things, like showing the videos of the men marching and cutting them into the recruitment posters of the day. That was so wonderful. I really liked this movie a lot. I really like World War I, and am fascinated by a lot of the aspects of it, much more so than World War II. So I’m glad this documentary was made, and I like that Peter Jackson put a visual flair into how he told it. This is one of my favorite documentaries of the year.

Thunder Road — * * * (3 stars)

This is a weird little movie. Interesting, though. It starts — and it’s based on a short which is entirely this opening sequence — with a police officer doing a eulogy at his mother’s funeral. And what starts as a somewhat endearing, rambling speech, turns into a full-blown meltdown, complete with choreographed rendition of the titular Springsteen song. And the rest of the movie becomes about his slowly losing of his shit in the aftermath of his mother’s death. But yet, even as he becomes more unhinged… well, I won’t spoil it. The movie does an interesting thing. I’m not sure it entirely earns it. That is to say, I like that it did it, but I’m not sure there was enough meat on the bones for it to work as well as it should have. Still, I did sort of enjoy this.

Three Identical Strangers — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

There’s always one documentary each year where you hear the plot and you go, “What the fuck?” Because it’s just nuts that something like that could be true. This one’s about a guy who goes to college and on his first day, everyone seems to think he’s someone else. And then he realizes… there’s another one of him. That is, he’s got an identical twin. But then, it gets weirder… because they find a third brother. Turns out, they were all adopted into separate families and separated at birth. But it gets weirder, because they start to look into where they were adopted from and try to find their birth mother, which uncovers a really weird and fucked up story of the details of their adoption. It’s interesting. I’m more interested in certain aspects of the story. The doc goes into their celebrity and things like that, because they got notoriety at the time. But I’m more interested in that weird “scientific study” stuff that they went into. Not only is it bizarre, but it’s really fucked up and probably very illegal. Still, this is one of the more interesting documentaries you’ll see this year.

Tito and the Birds —  * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

GORGEOUS animation. Story was just okay, but the animation was so good, it made up for it. In a year like this, this is an animated movie that actually looked good and wasn’t made on a computer, which is not something I can say for most of the stuff out there. For that alone, I’m a big fan of this movie.

Tyrel — * * * (3 stars)

Very indie movie. Feels improvised. I think I’ve seen a movie or two by this director. Wasn’t in love with any of those either. Just kind of okay. This style isn’t really my thing.

Unfriended: Dark Web — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

The first Unfriended was the first film to be shot entirely on a computer screen. And it came and went and no one really cared. This is the sequel to that, and even this year it’s under the radar because Searching is the one that’s (rightly) getting all the press. That movie was a thriller that told a compelling story and used the computer screen as a storytelling device. This is just a horror movie with a paper thin plot that’s just trying to scare you and do supernatural horror things and uses the computer screen device as a gimmick. Don’t bother with this. Go watch Searching instead.

Venom — * * * (3 stars)

What the fucking hell was this movie? I should keep this brief, on the off chance that I end up having a lot more to say about this, but — you don’t cast Tom Hardy in a superhero movie and then not let him do his thing. Clearly, based on how little of this movie makes any sense, they shot way more of this than is in the movie, and ended up with such a hack job to get it released that it’s barely a movie so much as a bunch of scenes masquerading as a plot. You know they let him do his thing and then cut it all out in the end. Which again — why cast him, then? This movie is one fucking disaster. It’s watchable, and movies of this sort always are, but man, this is a DC level disaster. It’s almost as if every other studio is out to prove that no one can make these movies other than Marvel. Which is disgusting, because Marvel is basically assembly line bullshit. Why can no one make a fucking superhero movie anymore? Is just because it’s only about the pursuit of money, and you feel like if you release one and it doesn’t make $600 million worldwide it’s a failure? How about trying to tell an interesting fucking story for a change? Yeah, this movie sucked, though.

Vice — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

Okay. Here we are. This was almost anointed a spot in my top ten at year’s beginning. Just because The Big Short was such a huge surprise, and even if he did the exact same thing here, I was gonna be all for it. And he doesn’t quite do the same thing here. He does a lot of the same thing here, but this movie is more serious than that one. Because that one was fun, but about a serious topic. This one, is just fucking horrifying, because you realize just how deep and dark the whole thing goes. That said, there are very funny moments. McKay takes brazen liberties with the narrative, and it’s very fun to watch him do that. But even so, this is still a very terrific movie. It’s not The Big Short, so don’t expect that level. But Bale is incredible here, and the rest of the cast is so good. I thought I was gonna have a problem with Carell and Rockwell as stunt casting… but Rockwell is more like Bush than I thought, and Carell is fine as Rumsfeld. It’s all about Bale anyway. Bale and how McKay tells the story. It’s a very good movie, and one I want to see again very soon.

Vox Lux — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is a weird one. I was interested in it, because I liked (didn’t love) Childhood of a Leader. I was hoping for that to have been a different kind of movie than it was. And it seems like Brady Corbet is interested in furthering that style from the last one that I wasn’t totally on board with. Namely the foreboding kind of tone with the almost horror score and the omniscient, bad omen quality of the film. That’s what this is. It’s a weird choice and really takes you out of the movie at times, but I remained intrigued. Just like I did with the last one. I feel like this is a movie that’s trying to be worse than it should be, but still remains okay. Natalie Portman doesn’t show up until the halfway point, and then the actress who plays her in the first half plays her daughter in the second half. It’s just… a weird one. Because the Natalie half takes place over the course of like, a day. And it seemingly serves no purpose at all and feels really disconnected. The whole film feels really disconnected from the rest of it. Why did we need the scene at the beginning? How does that inform everything else? Why aren’t we shown the more interesting portions of her life? How come it ends with just a music performance that doesn’t sound that great? Like I said, it’s almost a movie that wants to be worse than it is. I’m both intrigued by it but also wondering what the hell it was trying to do. I don’t know how to feel about this.

Warning Shot — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I only saw this because James Earl Jones was in it. It’s a weird movie. Some crime thriller about families feuding about water rights and a woman and her daughter who unknowingly get involved in it. David Spade plays a gangster? It’s very weird. And they try that Tarantino kind of dialogue between the hitmen that show up — it’s not a very good movie. But there will always be a handful of movies I watch because older actors are in them. They’re almost never good, but you kinda know that going in.

We the Animals — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I didn’t know what this was when I saw it. We got a screener and I’d barely heard of it. I think it was just before it got all the Indie Spirit nominations. So I had no basis for knowing anything about it. But I really liked it. It’s not the kind of movie I’m gonna wanna watch again and again, but in terms of visual style and how they decided to tell the movie and place you, the viewer, I loved it. It’s difficult for movies where children are the main characters to place you in the shoes of the children. This one actually feels like it accomplishes that, and does it in a different way than I’ve seen before. It’ll abruptly slow down certain moments, focus on random elements of the moment, it’ll cut out the sound and make it sound like you’re trying to focus on one particular sound very far away. It’ll cut out of a moment out of nowhere and go to something else. That feels like childhood. You just have bits and pieces left of the memory. I really liked what they did there. I think this is a very impressive film and is worth seeing. I don’t think anyone really knows what this is about and I think this is one of the hidden gems of this year.

What They Had — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

One of the most underrated and underseen movies of 2018. This movie was fantastic. It’s an indie drama clearly based on someone’s real life experience. Stars Blythe Danner as a woman with Alzheimer’s, Robert Forster as her doting husband, who continues to care for her even as he gets on in age and his health fails, Michael Shannon as their son, who still lives in town and is really jaded about caring for the two of them, and Hilary Swank, who lives far away and has to come back because of a family emergency. And it’s just about the four of them, their relationships and the situation. It’s really well drawn, and well acted. Swank gives a great performance, Shannon is always great, and Robert Forster — someone recognize how great that man still is. He gives perhaps the one performance that should be nominated for Best Supporting Actor that will be completely ignored throughout the season. This is a terrific gem of a movie that everyone should seek out.

White Boy Rick — * * * * (4 stars)

This was one of my five most anticipated movies of 2018. I was so excited for this. And by the time it came out, I almost didn’t even see it in the theater because of how mixed the reviews were. It made it seem like the movie was bad? But I loved it! What’s to dislike about it? Sure, it’s not perfect. But what is? This completely met my expectations and was a perfectly solid movie. I’m excited to see it again just so I know for sure how much of a hidden gem this is gonna be for years to come. McConaughey is fantastic here and gives one of the more underrated performances of the year, and I just loved the overall vibe. Again, not perfect, but what was everyone expecting? Huge fan of this one.

White Fang — * * * (3 stars)

This was on Netflix, so I watched it. Thought it was gonna be a D-grade animated movie, but honestly… the animation style was pretty good. Made it watchable. It’s White Fang, so you know the story, but the animation made it worthwhile. Better than I was expecting, but just okay otherwise.

Whitney — * * * (3 stars)

Whitney Houston documentary. It was all right. Didn’t do much for me. Was hoping I’d like it more. I didn’t. It happens.

Widows — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

It’s been five years since 12 Years a Slave, and Steve McQueen has made his follow up. It seemed curious that he’d be making a crime thriller with Gillian Flynn, but I had faith that he’d make whatever it was worthwhile. And the cast was solid throughout, and I was ready for this to be good. Still, I didn’t expect it to be this good. This is a thriller that has so much going on, all of which is interesting. It’s based on a miniseries, and that makes sense. Because there are multiple rich threads going on, all at once. Even the ones you don’t see enough of are interesting. This is one of those movies where, as soon as it was over, I wanted to see it again because it just worked so well and there was so much that I wanted to see again. This is one of the best movies of the year.

The Wife — * * * (3 stars)

I didn’t even know what this was for the longest time. Then out of nowhere Glenn Close was getting Oscar buzz for it. The premise is good — she’s the wife of a guy who just won the Nobel Prize. They’ve been married forever, and he’s a vain novelist. And the film is about their marriage and her struggle with whether or not she wants to go with him to get the award. It’s — probably better than I felt, but I thought it was just okay. The performances were fine, the movie was okay. Not something I ever need to see again. Just watchable. Nothing more.

Wildlife — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Paul Dano’s directorial debut. I was really excited for this last year, but by the time it came out, it was basically an afterthought. It’s about a marriage dissolving, told from the perspective of a teenager. It sounded exactly like the kind of thing I’d really like. Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s just… it’s a really mannered movie. It’s 50s, so it’s trying to emulate that. But it just feels like it could have done more. It’s one of those where, I want to support it with all my being, because I love when actors direct, but also… it’s a first film. And it feels like a first film. It’s one of those where — it’s perfectly fine and pretty good, but I wish there were more.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Films I Haven’t Seen Yet

  • Capernaum — Have it, just need to watch it. There’s always a handful of foreign films that end up here.
  • Dogman — Have it, just need to watch it. Also foreign.
  • Everybody Knows — Same as the others. Foreign. Have it, need to watch it.
  • Zama — You know what it is. Same deal.
  • Never Look Away — Last one. Have it, just need to watch it.
  • Blaze — There’s always one film from late August that I don’t end up seeing by the end of the year. I think this may be coming out in a month on streaming.
  • Fahrenheit 11/9 — Also out next week. I’ll see it.
  • Monsters and Men — I’ll see it by the New Year, most likely. If not, it’s out on DVD second week of January.
  • All About Nina — I think we may get a screener for this. Still, out on DVD next week.
  • A Private War — We’ll get a screener for this, it’s just a matter of when.
  • The House That Jack Built — It came out today, and I honestly just wanted to get this article up rather than wait for me to watch it. I’m sure I’ll be seeing it within the next 12 hours. May even go back and update this if it’s early enough.
  • The Mule — Came out yesterday. My guess is I’m gonna go see this tomorrow.
  • All Is True — Not out yet, but I have it. So that’ll be seen tomorrow most likely as well. I doubt I’ll update this article just for that. But you never know. You might just have to wait for me to get to it in its own article.

The Films I Skipped

  • Insidious: The Last Key

The Films That Have Not Yet Been Released

  • Welcome to Marwen
  • Second Act
  • Holmes & Watson

– – – – – – – – – – –


2 responses

  1. Mirai: “This is the best of the Japanese anime that are eligible for Best Animated Feature this year.”

    The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (i.e., also a Japanese anime): *gives it 4 stars*

    December 15, 2018 at 9:45 pm

  2. Chinoiserie

    Dissapointed that you didn’t mention Aniston in Dumpling since you like to complain about her ;) Suprised about Girl in the Spider’s Web score, I don’t know if I should watch it or not, I worry it’s just going to make me angry if I don’t like it. I kind of want Clenn Glose to win the Oscar finally but that synopsis just bores me so that I don’t know if I will ever watch it. I mean the premise is there but then it’s just sound like a film which will spin on its wheels trying to give actors material.

    I loved Grimes of Grindelwald, even more than the first film. But I do recognize it’s not really a typically paced film nor overall a one which most people like. I guess I have just similar tastes to Rowling about many thing so this just is my kind of thing. But I worried you would not like it even if you did the last film. Nice you did even if less so than with the last.

    December 16, 2018 at 12:29 pm

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