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2019: The Year in Reviews (Part I)

I was really interested to see how this part of the year turned out. Last year was insane. I barely watched movies for the first two months of the year, then somehow managed to get to 100 movies by the time we finished April. This year, it went about as it usually does — I spend most of January finishing off the last of the previous year’s movies, writing up Oscar stuff and not really watching much of anything. Then about third/fourth week, I start the new stuff. That’s about where we were this year. Though not on a particularly strong pace. I had a bunch of movies pile up as we got through Oscar season, and then I started watching stuff in earnest once it was over whenever I could. And yet, somehow…hit 100 movies over the weekend (and I’ve watched about that number in non 2019 films already too). I guess moral is, I’m still gonna do the same shit no matter what the situation.

This, as I’m sure we all know by now, is the first reviews article of the year. I’m writing everything from 2019 I’ve seen thus far. I left ratings for it all back in January and promptly forgot about them. I write up reviews now and will be promptly forgetting about them. Then I’ll write up the second third of the year in August, and then we’ll put up the final batch in December just before we do the year-end wrap up articles where I pull all this stuff together and go, “Huh… that was all pretty accurate.”

So here’s what I’ve got for 2019 so far:

After * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Yeesh. The problem with movies like this is that they take themselves so seriously and think they’re doing something profound. And that makes them so fucking tedious for the rest of us. This is what a high school student would write and think is the most amazing shit ever. Also pretty sure only high school students would ever think this is a good movie. Don’t bother with this if you have a choice.

Against the Clock — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I cannot even remember how long I’ve been tracking this movie. I think I finally gave up on it and then noticed i was coming out. So I had to watch it. And yeah… there’s a reason it didn’t come out for so long. It looks cheap, it’s a bad thriller, there’s nothing of interest in it and it was really only something I watched because I’d been tracking it for so long. The rest of you never need to know what this is or see it.

Alita: Battle Angel — * * * (3 stars)

It was always gonna go 3 stars. And you knew this would never be more than 3 stars. James Cameron was gonna make this for years and then went back to Avatar-land forever. So he gave it to Robert Rodriguez, who admittedly got a nice cast for it. But the story doesn’t really go anywhere interesting, and its biggest problem — which is something I say all the time — too much money went into it. I know some of that is the “James Cameron tax” (he’s produced so much money for Fox that they basically have to write him a blank check for whatever he does. Kinda like the Peter Jackson Hobbit movies… they had to put whatever he wanted into them, ultimately to the detriment of the final product, because sometimes limitations can be a good thing). But still, this should not have cost almost $170 million (which is only what they reported). It’s just a watchable movie that doesn’t do anything particularly special. You could have spent $90 million on this and gotten the same product. Movies like this just seem like a waste of money.

American Hangman — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Somewhat intriguing premise, which is why I bothered watching it. Guy kidnaps two random people, one a judge, and puts the judge on trial for his ruling in his last case. And the viewers can vote on whether or not they think the judge is guilty. Problem is… movie’s not that well written and doesn’t go anywhere interesting, so you’re left with a generic thriller that maybe could have been something better.

Among the Shadows * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I only saw it because it’s a werewolf movie with Lindsay Lohan. The movie is utter dog shit. I can say I’ve seen it, but I can’t say I’m particularly better for having seen it. But now you know it exists and that it’s where she’s at. So I guess maybe something came of it.

Arctic * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I love wilderness survival movies. Especially when they’re tactile and feature little dialogue. Just watching a dude go through his routine of trying to be rescued, even if I spend three straight minutes watching him chop ice, is fascinating to me. Give me that over any hastily cut action sequence any day.

Ashes in the Snow — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Serious dramas about Eastern-European hardship rarely turn out to be interesting. I only saw this because it stars Bel Powley. Probably wasn’t worth it. There’s always one serious period Eastern-European drama that comes out, and it’s never worth it.

Avengers: Endgame * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

As far as landings go, this one felt respectable.

Based on a True Story — * * * (3 stars)

Roman Polanski making a thriller. Starring his wife and Eva Green. One’s an author with writer’s block who meets a woman who quickly becomes her friend. Sort of a “Misery” in the age of Facebook. It doesn’t amount to anything interesting or go anywhere worthwhile. Nice to see Polanski still making movies, though just go watch The Ghost Writer instead. It’s a much better movie.

The Beach Bum — * * * * (4 stars)

Harmony Korine’s followup to Spring Breakers. And while I always feel like I think Spring Breakers is a better movie than it actually was, I think this is overall a better experience than that was. This is a completely plotless movie about Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, a poet and stoner just kind of coasting through life on the Florida Keys. Stuff happens around him, but he’s basically just doing his thing and a lot of the fun comes from him just being him in different situations. It’s basically just a series of episodes, where people show up. Oh, here’s Isla Fisher as his wife. Here’s Snoop Dogg as his best friend (a rapper named Ray, short for Lingerie). Here’s Jonah Hill as his lawyer. Here’s Zac Efron. Here’s Martin Lawrence. Jimmy Buffet shows up (and there’s a great song at the end that he is shown working on with Snoop Dogg earlier in the movie, which is amazing). It’s all fun as shit. McConaughey is awesome, and the movie is perfectly Harmony Korine, too. It’s got those Spring Breakers colors to it, it’s in Florida, it’s got people on the fringes of society (at one point McConaughey hangs out with homeless people and you just know they’re real homeless people they found off the streets of Florida). And even though some crazy shit happens or it takes some turns that would feel “big” for any other movie, the notion that this is a dude who life just works out for… it all makes sense here. This is a different kind of reality, and that’s the point. And that’s why I love it. It was so much fun. And, I would point out… I saw this movie totally sober. I suspect it’s something that should be seen not sober (fun fact: a friend went to see it at SXSW, and before the screening they handed out scratch-and-sniff cards to be scratched at specific points during the movie, and when you scratched them, all of them smelled like weed), but either way, I had a lot of fun with this movie and, at the moment, it’s one of my favorite films of the year. That will not hold up, but at the moment, because it’s early, this is near the top for me.

Berlin, I Love You — * * * (3 stars)

Fourth in the series, after Paris, New York and Rio. They’re arguably getting worse as we go along, though I might say Berlin is better than Rio was. Still, the magic of the earlier films isn’t there. Paris was great because it was one film per neighborhood and it felt more like a real anthology film. New York was just a bunch of directors making short films that all vaguely took place in New York. It wasn’t about the city. And these other ones are less films, all talking about the city but nothing really making you feel the city. I think the franchise, or whatever you want to call it, has lost sight of what it should be about. I’ll probably keep watching them as they make them, but it’s really not very worthwhile anymore.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind — * * * (3 stars)

Very nice directorial debut by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Very capable and perfectly entertaining movie. Can’t say I loved it, but it’s one of those all-around pleasant movies that feels like a good job all around. One of the more solid Netflix movies out there.

Captain Marvel * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Let’s get the easy part out of the way — this is lower tier Marvel. It is. All Marvel movies are solid and entertaining and they’re all of a certain quality level. You enjoy them when you watch them. That’s understood. It’s a formula. They know how to use it. This one… kinda forgettable all around. To me, this is in that Doctor Strange, Incredible Hulk level, where it’s fine, but I don’t really care about the hero or the story or really anything that happens in it. I appreciate that Ben Mendelsohn wasn’t made the outright villain. Nice to see him get a complex character, and he’s really the best thing in it. Brie Larson doesn’t get a whole lot to work with. Jude Law is fun, but he’s cut out of a lot of the movie. Samuel L. Jackson finally gets a lot of stuff to play with, character-wise, so that’s nice. Otherwise, I’m left not really giving much of a shit about this one. The music choices were weird — fucking Nirvana? Yeah, because that’s what Kurt wanted with his music — the story was kinda slight. Mostly it felt like them having fun referencing stuff we’ve seen but hasn’t officially happened yet. It’s fine. I’m glad we’ve got a female superhero and all that. But I’m not overrating this movie because we’re desperately in need of systemic change. It’s just fine. It’s fun. It’s nothing more than I expected it to be, and in the entire catalogue of Marvel movies, this isn’t one of the better ones.

Captive State * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is a sci-fi movie with a lot to say. Almost too much to say. It’s very serious. It’s engaging, but it’s very serious. I liked that it never devolved into an action movie like I expected it to. This is a political drama with sci fi overtones. John Goodman is the unequivocal star of the movie, and I like that he’s got a big role for the first time in a long time. I also really like how they ended it. Of course, to get that ending, they left a couple of weird breadcrumbs beforehand that probably left people going, “What the hell was that?” / “Well, clearly that must mean (x), even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” Still, I do appreciate that they tried to do something different and smarter than your average sci fi movie. I will never penalize a movie by aiming too high. However, I do think this introduces a lot of stuff that it cannot possibly spend enough time dealing with. Though this does feels like it could be a very successful graphic novel in the future. There’s a lot there to work with, if not specifically this particular corner of the story. I think it’s too ambitious in a way that it couldn’t have pulled off for a studio release, but I appreciate the ambitions and I think the result was a perfectly solid movie that people are gonna misjudge because they’re expecting the usual studio crap (which this is not).

Close — * * * (3 stars)

Noomi Rapace as an action hero. She plays a bodyguard sent to protect a spoiled teenage girl who wants nothing to do with her. But then when some people come to kidnap her and Noomi murders a lot of them… she changes her tune. And then the two of them end up on the run together in the Middle East, and action stuff happens. It’s fun. Nothing overly amazing, but it’s written and directed by a woman, which is always a good thing.

Cold Pursuit — * * * (3 stars)

Liam Neeson as a snow plow driver who starts killing the men who murdered his son. Though not really. It’s not exactly an action movie per se. Or rather, Neeson isn’t the action hero he is in the Taken movies. This is much more of a weird comedy than it is an action movie. Definitely some action, but also some weird dark comedy. It’s a remake of the same director’s original movie, and I suspect a lot of the comedy works better there than it does here. Still, it’s enjoyable. And even so, we got that whole bizarre, “Liam Neeson admitted to walking around thirty years ago, looking to kill a black man because his friend said a black man raped her” thing. That’s gotta count for something, right?

The Curse of La Llorona * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Supernatural horror movie, which means I did not care one bit. If it didn’t feel pretty much like a standalone thing and not part of that Conjuring universe, I probably wouldn’t have even watched it. These just aren’t for me and provide me no pleasure nor interest.

Crypto * * ½ (2.5 stars)

There’s always one of these every year — the thriller based around high concept finance. Always have some sort of a cast in them, never particularly interesting. Not worth seeing, even if I only saw it because I noticed Kurt Russell was in it.

The Dirt — * * * (3 stars)

Motley Crue biopic they’ve been trying to make for at least 15 years. I remember back in the day, Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken were gonna be in it. Now it’s directed by the guy who did Jackass and feels exactly like the kind of movie Netflix would put out. It’s got moments of being interesting, but ultimately feels very by the numbers. Never really gets into any interesting character stuff, even if interesting things happened to the real people. The movie never makes any of it particularly interesting. And honestly I had trouble figuring out who the hell was who for most of the movie. They all pretty much felt the same. The dude who played Ozzy Osbourne in that one scene was fun though. Can’t really recommend the movie though unless you’re throwing it on as you do laundry or something.

A Dog’s Way Home * * ½ (2.5 stars)

You realize they’re building a shared universe of dog movies, right? This one doesn’t sync up with A Dog’s Purpose, but it’s gonna. They’re all gonna. They’re all by the same author, who cranks out these generic dog movies. This one is crazy. The dog bonds with a wolf cub, there’s veterans with PTSD, there’s a crazy homeless dude — the movie is insane. Nothing more than totally generic, but hey, some people might want that. I will say it was more watchable than A Dog’s Purpose, which was just an outright piece of shit. This one at least made me not care rather than actively dislike it.

Donnybrook * * * (3 stars)

Little indie with a good cast and an interesting premise — deep in the swamp, they have a tournament where a bunch of dudes get into a cage and beat the shit out of each other and the last one left standing wins like, a hundred grand. Which, for the type of people who enter this, is life changing. So the film stars Jamie Bell as an ex army dude with PTSD, Frank Grillo as a dangerous drug dealer and Margaret Qualley as his sister who wants out. The movie is slow and feels like it might go somewhere. Sadly it never really does, and even when stuff does happen, it doesn’t really add up to anything. I thought it was fine just because of the people involved, but it’s not a particularly great movie. It feels like it needed a better script to have turned into something better. Since the director does seem to put an atmosphere of bleak desperation onto the whole thing and it makes me think there is talent there, provided the material is too.

Drunk Parents * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Jesus. What is this movie? It’s not funny… there’s no pacing or sense of comedy or anything, really. And clearly Alec Baldwin shot this over like, a week at most, and is separated from the rest of the movie. How can you make a comedy work when the stars are in their own shots and everyone else is shooting opposite them on different days with them not there? Worst part? They’re not even drunks! So it’s just a bad movie with a misleading title. Really the only thing you can say about this movie is — yeesh.

Dumbo * * * (3 stars)

I’ve been very disappointed by Tim Burton for a decade now. Sweeney Todd was the last film of his that really felt like “his.” Since then it’s been watered down, bland, big budge stuff. Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, Miss Peregrine, and now Dumbo. The only one in there I kinda liked was Big Eyes, which still felt kinda bland for Tim Burton standards. It’s as if he lost that spark and sold out to the Man. How sad were we all when they announced he’d be making Dumbo? What happened to the dude who made Ed Wood and Mars Attacks? Well, fortunately for us all, it seems like he’s still in there. Because while Dumbo is generic Disney fluff for the most part… there’s a sort of acknowledgment in there by Burton for what he’s become. And there’s… well, I’m not gonna call it a scathing critique of Disney, but there’s definitely a bit of a nibble at the hand that’s feeding him. The Disney parallels are very obvious. Though does it count as radical when the hand that’s being bitten is raking in shitloads of cash in the other? I don’t think they give a fuck what the movie’s “saying,” you all went to see it. Look at the label all you want, you’re still eating Soylent Green. It’s interesting to see them try to throw a story onto Dumbo, which is, next to Bambi, the slightest of the Disney movies in terms of plot. Really all they had was “big ears, overprotective mother, fireman bit, flying.” I guess their version of the mouse was Danny DeVito? But outside of that, they wrote a plot onto it. Which was never gonna be all that interesting. How could it be? And you knew they’d never really manage to properly recreate “Pink Elephants on Parade,” though I guess they at least tried to do something, when I half-expected them to cut it out entirely. Interesting to replace the racist crows with Michael Buffer. That was a choice. But I also appreciate the lengths they went to work in a “Let’s get ready for Dumbo” pun, so I won’t knock it. And of course you knew they’d change that ending to make it more of the times. Because if you remember, the original ending is like, “Yeah, they’re still chained up and in the circus, but it’s more comfortable because they’re earners. This one turns the circus in to a “woke-us.” (I regret nothing.) The only thing that I found remotely interesting about this — it’s about a family circus that is bought out by the big company, put in a theme part and basically made to be part of the giant mass of attractions. Clearly meant to be reminiscent of how Disney is buying up all these brands. Not only that — once the brands are bought up, the less attractive elements of what is bought up are basically let go/killed. You know… it’s not harsh, but it’s the kind of thing that’s about as biting as subtext gets in this era. Mostly what I’m looking at this as… it’s a story about how you shouldn’t sell out and let yourself be bought by the big corporation… which is kinda what Tim Burton did. It’s almost like an SOS he’s sending us. This movie is Tim Burton’s cry for help. Either that, or, more appropriately, it means nothing and they’re just gonna continue taking everyone’s money and buying up everything in sight. Have fun with the future, everybody!

Escape Room — * * * (3 stars)

I appreciated that this was a thriller and not a horror movie. I assumed it would be Saw-level torture stuff. But really, it’s just a bunch of people locked in an elaborate escape room they have to figure out in order to not die. At least I can go with that. And naturally, like all of these movies do, they work in an overarching “villain”/corporation that’s running this whole thing, and branching it out into a bigger universe or whatever for sequels. Sure. But since it didn’t go the horror route I was expecting, I was actually able to watch this and enjoy parts of it. For which I am grateful.

Fighting with My Family * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I’m considering this the surprise of 2019 so far. I’d seen a trailer late last year and thought, “That seems fun, but no way is that gonna be good.” And it was coming out February, plus the wrestling aspect… how could that work. And yet, it does. I heard strong things from this through other people before I finally saw it, but even then, I just kinda hoped I’d think it was fun. I actually thought this was good. It’s got its heart in the right place, the laughs are genuine, and you really feel for the characters. Sure, some of it goes a bit on the nose (the training sequences, and the brother’s… journey… if you will, in the latter half of the film), but there are enough moments in there that make it feel fresher than if another movie were telling the same story. Florence Pugh is solid, and the entire cast is solid. It’s just a delightful movie that I think will make you enjoy it even if you’re not a particularly big wrestling fan.

Finding Steve McQueen * * * (3 stars)

Weird little heist movie I’ve been tracking forever. I’m not even sure what the plot or tone of this is. Guy who is obsessed with Steve McQueen, but is kinda dumb (maybe?) helps his gangster buddy and crew rob a bank. So the movie kind of flashes between them doing the heist and also afterward, when he’s settled down with a girlfriend and is trying to tell her that he’s not who she thinks he is, sort of as he’s about to get caught. I don’t know. Weird movie. Watchable, but not something I’d tell other people to watch. This, for me, is that exalted “cable watch” movie. That I’d have randomly seen while leaving HBO on one afternoon and been totally fine with. I’m always more lenient on those than other people are.

Five Feet Apart * * ½ (2.5 stars)

The fault in our lungs. It’s a romance in a hospital between two people with cystic fibrosis. Completely generic in every way, hits all the beats you expect it to hit, and really only made for teen girls.

Fosse/Verdon * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

Okay, so this is a miniseries and not a movie. However, it is legitimately the thing I was most excited for this year. The most. Full stop. So I’m reviewing it and it’s going here. Not gonna end up on a top ten list or anything, because it is TV, but I can talk it up all until then. It’s a miniseries about Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, starring Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams. I was in yesterday. As of right now, we are three episodes in. Episode four is tonight. There was no question that I was gonna love this. I’m not saying this is revolutionary in any way. It looks and feels just like all TV now feels to me. But I love the stars and I love the material, and it’s only getting better for me. Episode 1 is (mainly. They cut around, Fosse-style throughout) them during Cabaret, Episode 2 is them during Damn Yankees when they first meet, and Episode 3 is the editing of Cabaret mixed with Gwen’s first marriage. Episode 4 airs tonight. I’m all in on this show.

Freaks — * * * * (4 stars)

This was the first movie I saw this year. I managed to see it by chance and figured, “Maybe it’ll be worthwhile.” By the thirty-minute mark I was riveted, and it’s currently my favorite movie of the year. That will for sure change, but it’s worth noting how much I liked it. This is also something that played Toronto and still has no distributor, so it’s questionable when or if this will ever come out. But this is the kind of movie — it’s very low budget, and it shows at points, but the writing is so strong. To the point where, twenty minutes before the end of the movie, I had no idea where it was going. Here’s the set up — Emile Hirsch is in a house with his daughter. It’s clear she’s never been outside and he’s very strict with her about things. You kind of have an idea of what’s going on, but you’re not entirely sure why he’s doing this. And then the movie just takes off from there. The less you know, the better, and the more you guess — go ahead. It’s gonna keep changing on you as you go. And it’s also one of those movies where literally everything they show means something and comes back later to payoff. I was really surprised at how well they pulled that off. This is some of the smartest sci fi writing I’ve seen in a while and this is a movie that you all should see whenever you get the chance to.

Fyre — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is the Netflix one of the two docs. The Hulu one feels more objective (or more “these fucking people are criminals”). This one shows more of the disaster that the entire experience was. It might not point as much blame as the Hulu one does (because some of the people involved made it), but the situation points all the blame. It’s nuts, some of the shit that happened here, and this is worth seeing by all. You gotta see just how big a disaster this festival was. This will eventually be a movie, but it won’t be as nuts as this documentary is. Also, that blowjob scene is the single greatest scene of 2019 so far.

Fyre Fraud — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is the Hulu doc. It takes a much more hardline stance of, “This was a fraud, this was illegal, this is all criminal.” And it should have. Just on the off-chance someone saw the Netflix one and thought the people involved were remotely innocent. The most interesting thing about this one for me was the interview with the main guy, which is just so damning and sleazy. I think people should watch both docs, but it’s better to see the Netflix one and then supplement it with this.

Glass — * * * (3 stars)

I’m so upset this movie even exists. So two years ago, as Split was coming out, I was generally disdainful of the whole idea of it, just because I absolutely hated The Visit and people kept saying, “M. Night Shyamalan is back!” But Split was really good. In the days before it came out, I would openly guess what would happen without any knowledge whatsoever, I kept joking to the people at the office, “I bet he’s gonna start a shared universe. One of the personalities is gonna be the alien from Signs and Joaquin Phoenix is gonna come back with a bat.” Shit like that. I would just make up the craziest shit. And then after we all saw it, the guys at the office were like, “I can’t believe you fucking called that.” Which, was funny. But I don’t take too much credit in doing that, because I was just making up what could have been the most insane things for him to do. The fact that he actually did one of them speaks bigger volumes than me trying to be funny. Also, that last scene of Split actually diminishes the movie in my eyes. It was actually a really solid movie before he did that. Anyway, that led to this being a thing and people being really excited for this and me having to listen to updates about this for almost two years. And I knew from the jump that I was not gonna like this movie. And fortunately, for me at least, no one else seemed to either. It seemed to remind us all, “Oh yeah, he’s not a very good writer, is he?” This is just such a weirdly structured movie. Samuel L. Jackson isn’t in it for the first half, and then he’s catatonic for most of it until the end? And the first act is Willis vs. McAvoy, but then there’s the weird institution stuff in the middle, and then it takes that insane turn for the third act. To the point where, when the ending happens, does anyone give a shit? I feel like this is the ultimate, “You didn’t need this, and you ruined any good will you had.” But I guess they don’t care, because they made a bunch of money off of it. A lot of people are gonna call this a disappointment, but this was exactly the movie I thought I was getting. So really I’m just left with, “There’s really no such thing as a good M. Night Shyamalan movie anymore, and I’d rather not have to question whether or not there ever was.” What a waste of good will this was.

Guava Island — * * * (3 stars)

I’m not sure if this fully counts as a feature because it’s 50 minutes. But it feels like a complete thing, so I’ll count it. Not sure what they were going for with it, but it was likable enough. Felt like a story I’d have written when I was ten. But it also felt admirable enough. So I guess my feeling on this is, “…sure.” (Also, I’m not really up on any of this music stuff… but is it considered artistic or whatever you want to call it that weird dancing with the facial expressions that Donald Glover does? Is there something I’m missing there?)

Happy Death Day 2U — * * * (3 stars)

A movie that feels like it was allowed a sequel. And you know what? Sequel was just fine. Not as charming or interesting as the first one, as one would expect, but also not terrible either. Just more of the same. Except now more people get caught in the loop. It’s fine. Worth a watch if you liked the first one, but nothing particularly incredible going on here. Guessing they’ll try to round out a trilogy of these, but if they stopped here, I’d be fine with that too. Really just as long as they don’t wear out their welcome, as things like this tend to do.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Holy fucking shit. I only watched this because I saw it was Hilary Duff playing Sharon Tate, and since this is the 50th anniversary of the murders and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is coming out, I figured this would be so bad it would be worth the watch. And I was right. This is awful. Hilary Swank plays Tate basically like it’s Repulsion. She’s just losing her shit for half the movie, and it makes it seem as if she can see her own death coming. She’s actually having visions of it. And, there’s even a moment where she enters a room (because it’s not her house) and Charles Manson’s music tapes are in there. And almost as if she knows, she freaks out and evil sounds start playing on the score. Which is almost like if you had a movie set in the 20s and someone saw kid Hitler and immediately freaked out because somehow they “knew.” It’s fucking ridiculous. It’s so bad. This is not worth seeing by anyone. It’s barely even a passable movie. This is made by someone who clearly must specialize in low rent, Z grade horror movies. There’s nothing of value in this movie.

Hellboy — * * * (3 stars)

I was very against this at the beginning, because why reboot this without Guillermo? But then I saw a trailer and thought, “This could be fun.” Turns out… the answer is somewhere in between. It’s almost fun, but it’s not a very good movie at all. The cast is game and there’s enough to make it okay if you’re just watching it without expectations. But it’s nowhere near what Guillermo achieved with the films. Mostly… with him, I kinda cared about the whole thing. Without him… not really. This is a hard R, which I guess is cool, but it doesn’t amount to anything because the storytelling doesn’t go anywhere and the film is a sprawling mess that takes a lot of obvious turns. Oh well. I guess I should feel good that it’s not Unforgivable.

Her Smell — * * * (3 stars)

This is Alex Ross Perry, a filmmaker who’s getting a cult following. People have really liked his first couple of movies. I finally watched my first one when I saw Golden Exits… and didn’t really care all that much. This one was more interesting to me at the outset… Elisabeth Moss as an aging punk queen… but basically same result. This is like Black Mass. That movie was the same fifteen minute scene basically done over and over. This is that. Elisabeth Moss has a meltdown. She has one in this location, and then in that location. The plot generally moves around it, but all the sequences are basically that done over and over again. It’s fine. If you like Perry’s movies, I’m sure you’ll like this. People who love Elisabeth Moss will get something out of the performance. For me… just okay. Nothing more.

High Flying Bird * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I’m so happy Steven Soderbergh is back making movies. Only he could make a movie like this interesting to me. This is literally a movie about two people talking. That’s it. It’s mostly people sitting in a room and talking to one another. It’s a sports movie without sports. And somehow, it’s really interesting. I think at this point no one needs to sell a Soderbergh movie past the fact that it’s a Soderbergh movie. Since his comeback, he’s made three movies. I still say Logan Lucky is the best, and I think Unsane is second. This as a third is nuts, because it’s really good. He’s been tinkering with distribution method on all his films so far, but one thing remains constant… the man knows how to pick great material and get the most out of it. He’s one of the few filmmakers to never get caught making a bad movie. And I love that about him.

High Life — * * * (3 stars)

Very weird movie. You really have no idea what’s going on for the first half hour, and even then, I only cared about so much of it. But I guess it has that weird Juliette Binoche fuck machine, so I guess there’s that.

The Highwaymen * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is a movie about the cops who caught (or more appropriately, murdered) Bonnie and Clyde. It’s directed by the guy who did The Founder and Saving Mr. Banks and stars Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t insanely interested in that setup and thought I would really like this. Problem is… the movie doesn’t fully come together. They set this up as a meditative western… the first shot of Costner is the grizzled cowboy (of sorts), looking at the dirt and nature, while a highway with noisy traffic is behind him in the distance. He’s a man out of time. A perfect set up for a particular kind of story. Problem is… the movie doesn’t become that kind of story. Costner and Harrelson… they’re playing that story. So they feel at odds with the direction for a lot of the film. Their performances are slow, and deliberate. They think they’re in The Assassination of Jesse James. The film wants to be a mainstream cop movie. And the two just never coalesce. It’s a shame. I don’t know if it’s because Netflix was involved and wanted to make it a certain kind of movie that would go over for them, or if John Lee Hancock just isn’t the type of filmmaker to handle this type of material. Whatever it is… while I did think it was solid… the movie just doesn’t work like it should with all of the elements that were involved in this.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Haven’t cared since the first one. Barely cared about the first one. Just kinda going through the motions by watching these. I’ve basically already forgotten what happened in this. Glad to probably be done with this franchise. Like all of their movies that work, DreamWorks ran it into the ground.

The Hummingbird Project — * * * (3 stars)

This was interesting to me. I didn’t think it ever could be. Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgard star as brothers who leave their company (run by Salma Hayek, who is not happy about it) to go out on their own. Their plan: build a cable between New York and Missouri, that can transmit .16 seconds faster than anything else. Basically, it’s for high stakes trading, where even a millisecond can cost millions of dollars. Eisenberg is the talker — he’s gonna get all the supplies and get everything to work, and Skarsgard is the coder — he’s gonna develop the program to get that extra time so their line can be the fastest. Again… I’m not sure why I found this interesting, but I did. I almost went 3.5 stars on this, but ultimately it was too indie for me and fell into a lot of third act situations that seemed too obvious. Still, I definitely recommend this. It’s more solid than your average movie.

I’m Not Here * * * (3 stars)

Actually forgot what this was when I saw the title. This is a movie that came out quietly and had been shelved for at least a year or two. Stars J.K. Simmons (who is completely separate from the rest of the movie) as an old man basically about to kill himself. The movie largely happens in flashback, showing him as a child with an alcoholic father, and as an adult, basically falling into the same pattern. Sebastian Stan plays younger him, and Maika Monroe plays his wife. Which is nice. I like seeing her in things. The movie’s not good at all though. The movie’s not really worth watching, even if it’s only like 80 minutes long.

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley * * * (3 stars)

Well this was fucking unsettling. This is a documentary based on a movie that’s probably gonna get made in the next couple of years. Adam McKay is directing and Jennifer Lawrence is starring. And after you see this, holy shit is that great casting. But it’s about Elizabeth Holmes, who basically became a tech billionaire in her early 20s by building a company that she said would revolutionize blood testing. Of course, the technology wasn’t there and eventually they were backed into lying and cheating investors and it all ended very badly and she’s now under a bunch of federal indictments. But the documentary’s about more than that. Because she doesn’t ever blink (which, watch it, it’s so fucking unsettling) and she adopts this fake voice that’s deeper than most normal voices. Even when you hear it, you go, “What the hell is that?” It sounds fake. And she just lies about random stuff… it’s so weird. The best is the first half, where all these old white guys are like, “But I so believed in her!” And you’re thinking, “Oh, so you thought she was hot, so you gave her money.” Because I feel like anyone my age would see her and go, “There’s something very weird going on there.” But yeah… not a great documentary, per se, but completely captivating and one of those things that makes me wish Adam McKay makes that movie very soon.

Io — * * * (3 stars)

Netflix movie about a dying earth, and a woman who continues her father’s experiments to try to save it, while everyone else is trying to catch the last shuttle that’s gonna leave before the planet becomes “uninhabitable.” So basically it’s just Margaret Qualley and Anthony Mackie for the whole movie, with Danny Huston in flashbacks and her boyfriend Skyping her from another planet. For that, I like it. I like when movies have like two people in the cast and it’s just about them. However, this one goes down a lot of the obvious routes and never really does anything particularly interesting. It’s pretty standard, as Netflix movies go. Wouldn’t particularly recommend this over a bunch of the other stuff they’ve put out.

Isn’t It Romantic — * * * (3 stars)

Interesting idea, not great execution. Woman gets mugged on the subway, hits her head and then wakes up inside a romantic comedy. So she’s in a rom com world and has to deal with all the tropes. Stars Rebel Wilson, and is directed by the guy who did The Final Girls, a movie with a similar premise (but a much better execution). Doesn’t really amount to anything interesting, and I am doubly disappointed by this, because not only was it a great idea with a lot of upside, I’ve read a couple scripts over the years with similar premises, and they ended up being so much better than this movie. (One is by Sam Esmail, who has since become a somewhat household name after creating Mr. Robot and now Homecoming.)

JT LeRoy * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Interesting idea for a movie, good enough cast… way too indie for me. Didn’t feel coherent enough, and had all too many indie trademarks that just make me disengage from a movie. There were only two possibilities for this, 2.5 stars or 3 stars, so I’m not surprised whichever way it went. There was no chance this was gonna turn out to be great.

Juanita — * * * (3 stars)

Netflix movie with Alfre Woodard. Basically — how Alfre Got Her Groove Back. She gets fed up and goes on a road trip. That’s the movie. That’s all you need. There’s some interesting stuff they try, but it never really rises above “just okay.” I appreciate that Alfre Woodard got a starring role and they tried to make a unique viewing experience, but I didn’t get particularly much out of it. About average, as Netflix movies go.

The Kid Who Would Be King — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Joe Cornish returns, eight years after Attack the Block. An interesting followup. This is an out and out kids movie. It’s for kids and it’s not trying to be anything else. It’s the kind of movie I would have watched growing up. And on that alone, I appreciate his dedication to it. I still wondered why he chose this as his second movie, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get that answer. We’ve reached a saturation point on King Arthur stories in the marketplace, and I really wasn’t expecting to think anything of this. But honestly, it’s really charming. It’s just fun. It’s good, clean filmmaking and it’s the kind of movie that you can’t deny accomplishes everything it sets out to accomplish. And really the only thing that will affect your viewing of it is whether or not you still have that little kid inside who can truly appreciate this. I am basically run by that little kid, so it should have been obvious that this would appeal to me more than it would other people. This is one of those — just sit back and enjoy it. The ten year old in you would have loved this.

Kursk * * * (3 stars)

Submarine movie about the real-life disaster. Matthias Schoenaerts is the main star. Lea Seydoux plays his wife. Colin Firth shows up in the latter stages. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, who did The Hunt and Far from the Madding Crowd. It’s whatever. It’s fine. Nothing overly special. Kinda bland, and probably could have done more. But it’s based on real life, so their hands were tied in a lot of ways. Oh well.

The Last Laugh — * * * (3 stars)

Netflix movie with Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss. That’s really the only reason I saw it. It’s nothing groundbreaking. Two old actors in a movie. Chase plays an old talent agent whose daughter wants him to go into a home. He goes, and meets Dreyfuss, a former client who left the business to become a podiatrist. He convinces him to go out on the road one last time and do stand up. So that’s the movie. Old stand up fulfilling his dream. It’s totally fine. I liked it because I like the two stars. It’s not perfect, but you knew that. You’re watching it for the actors, and you’ll get enough out of it through that alone.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part — * * * (3 stars)

It’s dumb cute fun. Same as the first Lego Movie. I wasn’t as in love with that first one as everyone else was. So to me, this is more of the same. It’s lesser than the first one, but to me it’s all in the same pool. Really what this amounts to for me is — “sure.” It’s fine, I’m sure people enjoy it, whatever. I’m gonna spend time talking about the stuff I actually liked.

Leaving Neverland * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This documentary is kinda like Hoop Dreams, but with pedophilia. It’s a tough watch. Not just because it’s four hours long, presented in two parts. Mostly you’re watching these adults tell these stories that should be pretty horrifying, but with no emotion. Because at this point it’s just fact to them. This is what happened. It was nice when we got to the point where their wives were introduced and you thought, “Okay, maybe they’ve gotten some semblance of a normal life after all this.” But yeah… it’s an interesting one. Certainly hard to defend Jackson the person after this. (The music, to me, is separate.) I’d also say… it’s not like this stuff wasn’t already out there, but it’s another thing to see the breadth and depth of the detail in these descriptions. It’s a solid documentary, but not one I ever really need to see again.

Little Woods * * * (3 stars)

Solid indie with Tessa Thompson and Lily James. About people on the fringes of society doing what they need to do in order to get by. Definitely worth a watch and a very solid debut by Nia DaCosta.

Lords of Chaos * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Interesting dark comedy about a Norwegian Black Metal band from the 90s. It’s definitely dark. I found a lot of it funny, though it definitely does not have a particularly funny ending. Still, I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this. I like the offbeat sense of humor to it, and even the scenes where they burn down churches are almost played for laughs. A very surprisingly enjoyable movie, which I would not have guessed if you presented me with this on paper before I saw it.

A Madea Family Funeral * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I guess I’m a guy who watches Tyler Perry movies now. This is my fifth one now, all coming in the past three years. Honestly the most entertaining of the five I saw, which isn’t really saying much. The Madea movies seem to be more engaging than the non-Madea movies. But I’m only five in and haven’t seen the other fifteen. I don’t particularly care about his output, as impressed as I am that he keeps cranking them out. I didn’t hate this though, so I guess that’s something.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote — * * * (3 stars)

Terry Gilliam’s tried to make this for 20 years. I’m really curious to see how much it’s changed over all the different iterations. I’m surprised he finally got it made. Also… not very good. To me, it’s his worst movie. Some might say Brothers Grimm, but I had fun with that. This felt laborious. There was no sense of fun. Gilliam felt like he was going through the motions. Zero Theorem felt like he was repeating himself, this just felt uninspired. Maybe because he’d been telling the story to himself for so many years he just kind of directed it without any passion? I don’t know. Maybe it just wasn’t a great idea to begin with. Truly couldn’t tell you. But I will say, this is the first Terry Gilliam movie I’ve seen where I went, “I really don’t care about any of this.”

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot — * * * (3 stars)

The title is the movie. The movie is not as fun or campy as the title may suggest. But you have Sam Elliott, so that’s nice. It’s more meditative than anything. Like The Assassination of Jesse James, only with Bigfoot and Hitler. I’d have loved it if Sam Elliott just played younger him and they didn’t bother to hide it. But alas. he kills Hitler pretty early on, and then the rest of the movie is him living with his regrets and finally agreeing to take on the Bigfoot mission, which takes up the last 25 minutes or so. It’s fine. It’s unique, I’ll give it that. I appreciate that they managed to get this made and have it actually be watchable. And I kind of appreciate that they tried to make a “real” movie out of this, even though I’d have been much more entertained with something campy. Still, I’d qualify this as a success, even if it’s an A+ title and a B execution.

Miss Bala — * * * (3 stars)

Remake of the Mexican film from 2011. I suspect that’s a better movie, but I can see why they remade it. Catherine Hardwicke directs, and it’s perfectly watchable. Woman’s sister goes missing and she embeds herself in the cartel to get her back. It’s interesting, has some nice tense moments, is perfectly decent. Nothing special, but fine.

Missing Link * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I think I was spoiled by Kubo. Every other Laika movie was 3.5 stars and solid but not overly spectacular for me. Kubo was the exception. So I think I let my expectations get raised by that. This — more of the same. Looks great, lot of fun, but not something that particularly grabbed me on a narrative level. That’s really gonna hinder a rating. I love everything Laika does, though. Their movies are always more solid than almost any other animated movie that comes out.

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase * * * (3 stars)

You know… this was solid. I’m not gonna say it’s a great movie or anything. But this is the kind of thing I’d have watched on Nickelodeon when I was 10. Sophia Lillis is very charming and a perfectly-cast Nancy. The movie is purely for kids and on its own, I think it does the job. This feels like a grown up kids movie, if that makes sense. It doesn’t belittle kids the way a lot of kids movies nowadays do. I’m a fan of this movie.

Native Son * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This really held my interests in the early parts of the film and then kinda lost me toward the end. But overall it was really well made and was a solid enough watch. Feels perfect for an HBO movie in that it gives you a good watch that doesn’t really feel like something you’d want to go to a theater for.

Never Grow Old * * * (3 stars)

Western with Emile Hirsch and John Cusack. Too serious, not great, but I’ll watch pretty much any western. I’d prefer a mediocre western over a ‘fairly decent’ anything else.

O.G. * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

HBO movie with Jeffrey Wright in prison. Really fantastic. He’s been in there over 20 years and he’s up for parole. And it’s a really captivating portrait. I definitely recommend this movie. It’s worth your time.

Out of Blue * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Another Martin Amis adaptation. This one just does not work. No idea what the hell this is supposed to be. Patricia Clarkson plays a detective investigating an astrophysicist’s death. Not really that interesting, and I don’t see who would ever really come out having liked this movie. Considering most people don’t watch nearly as many movies as I do, I’d say you’re better served putting a watch elsewhere than here.

Paddleton * * * (3 stars)

Netflix movie with Mark Duplass and Ray Romano. They play neighbors who are each other’s only friend. Duplass finds out he’s dying and decides he’s gonna end it. So the two go on a road trip to get the medication so he can. It’s decent. Small drama that goes low key in the hopes of getting you emotional by the end. Solid enough. Nothing overly special for me, but it’s worth seeing. Solidly middle/middle-plus Netflix fare.

The Perfect Date * * * (3 stars)

Netflix rom com starring the male lead from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. A bit Risky Business for the 21st century. Guy wants to get into Yale and afford the tuition, so he sells himself out as (insert title here). He creates an app where people pay him to go on dates with them and be who they want him to be. Kinda weird they don’t get into the whole sex/possible prostitution aspects of the whole thing, but the movie doesn’t really seem to care about logic past the set up. It’s selling itself on the chemistry between its leads. And on that aspect, it’s fine. It holds the attention enough. Not as special as the better ones out there, but it works for what it’s trying to be.

Pet Sematary * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Well this sucked. I guess they sold it on the fact that it was Stephen King and the last theatrical King movie was It and that did well. This… not so much. There’s just nothing of interest here. It all felt really generic and by the numbers. John Lithgow gets nothing to do even though he tries. It just doesn’t do anything that made me feel engaged. People seemed to think this was okay… I just thought it was bland.

Peterloo * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Mike Leigh movie. These can be tough watches for some people, myself included. This is one… it’s two and a half hours and it’s about a famous UK massacre. The sets and costumes are nice and it is engaging, but it’s not something I loved and not something I really ever need to see again. Leigh makes solid movies, but they’re just not for me, most of them.

Piercing — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is the B movie Phantom Thread. I loved it. It’s by Nicolas Pesce, who did The Eyes of My Mother, which was a very solid microbudget first film. It announces its intentions within the first three minutes — it starts with a man holding an ice pick over his infant child and then has grindhouse-style opening credits. It’s not trying to be high art and it’s gonna be down and dirty. Which is refreshing. Here’s the premise: a guy (Christopher Abbott) has the urge to kill his child so, to stop that, he decides to go to a hotel, hire a nameless prostitute, and murder her. The beginning of the movie is him going there and doing a practice run, where he plans out how it’ll all go down once she shows up. Which was really impressive to me, since some of the sound effects are more gruesome than if we actually saw it happen. Then of course the prostitute (Mia Wasikowska) shows up, and things don’t go as planned. It’s really well done. This will be one of the better movies you see this year

Polar — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Netflix version of John Wick starring Mads Mikkelsen. It’s awesome. They do almost acknowledge the John Wick similarities when he gets a dog fairly early on in the film (and then promptly accidentally kills it). It’s its own thing though. Basically — hitmen start dying and we find out that the company that employs them can’t afford to pay out their retirement benefits, so they start murdering them in order to become solvent. Of course, that ain’t working to well for Mikkelsen, so he’s out to fuck some people up. It’s a lot of fun. It’s the perfect Netflix movie. A lot of fun, not too much effort, and a great showcase for a very underrated actor.

The Prodigy * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Shitty horror movie. One of those “Bad Seed” knockoffs about an evil child killing people. Absolutely nothing new or interesting here.

The Professor and the Madman — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Well there was really no chance of this being good. I’m shocked it even came out. This was embroiled in litigation for almost a year. They dumped it on VOD after being disowned by both the director and Mel Gibson. The main concern is — it’s a movie about the Oxford English Dictionary and they didn’t get to shoot at Oxford. Namely because the production company (notorious for shit like this) did not give them the money to shoot there. But that’s all beside the point… it’s a movie about the beginning of the dictionary. It was gonna be really difficult to make this good movie. Or rather, a movie people were interested in seeing. Mel and Sean Penn and Steve Coogan are a good start, and as such, I was okay with this. I actually was pretty engaged by it, though I will admit that I am probably in the minority on that. But this could only have been made by Miramax in the late 90s to have turned out any better than this. I’m not gonna expect anyone else will give a shit about this movie.

Red Joan — * * * (3 stars)

It’s a movie about Judi Dench being a spy, what’s not to like?

ReMastered: Devil at the Crossroads * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This one’s about the legend of Robert Johnson and the myth that he met the Devil in the woods and sold his soul to be the best guitarist in the world. I’ve always loved that story, and I love this series.

ReMastered: Massacre at the Stadium * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

After I discovered this series, I watched all of them in a single afternoon. This one is about Victor Jara, Chilean poet and activist who was picked up, tortured and murdered for his beliefs during a military coup. This whole series is very strong, and all are worth seeing.

ReMastered: The Miami Showband Massacre * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This one’s about an Irish showband (basically a house band who plays all the big hits) who were part of a loyalist terrorist attack, in which many of the band members were killed. It’s a fascinating look into the “Troubles,” as they called them, centered around a cover band, which is the literal symbol of not having a side.

ReMastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

It’s funny. I had been coming across the Johnny Cash one on Netflix for months before I realized it was a series. Then this one came out and I made it a point to watch them all. The Cash one, the Bob Marley one and the Jam Master Jay one all technically count as last year, so they won’t feature into this article, but I will say that they’re all very interesting and should be seen. This one is about how Sam Cooke had a meteoric rise and also remained very outspoken about Civil Rights and ended up dying under very mysterious circumstances in a motel in LA. This is one of the best of this series and should be seen. If you like true music stories, you should see this, and all of the docs in this series. They’re all about 60-70 minutes and can be knocked out in an afternoon, as I ended up doing.

Rent Live — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I really enjoy these live musicals. This one isn’t totally live just because some of it was aired from dress rehearsal after one of the actors broke his foot. But they performed live in front of an audience, so it’s not totally off. Still, that made it slightly clunkier. Overall, I’m not the biggest fan of Rent, but this was an enjoyable enough performance, ending with the original cast coming out, which was a nice touch. I’d put it below the Jesus Christ Superstar from last year and below Grease, which I still think is the gold standard for these live musicals.

Serenity — * * * (3 stars)

This might go down as the most batshit movie of 2019. I hesitate to even get into it, but, as I’ve discovered with some of my friends… them asking me to spoil it and then finding out what it is actually encouraged them to see it. So I’ll write it with spoilers but blur them out so you have to actively highlight over them in order to see it. Still it’s nuts. If you paid attention the week it came out, you heard people talking about how this had the single most insane twist they’d seen in a long time. A lot of people did not notice it, and the movie completely disappeared from theaters not long after that, to the point where some people don’t even know this is a movie. To begin, it’s directed by Steven Knight, whose last movie was Locke, which was great. His first movie, Redemption, with Jason Statham, I haven’t seen, but by all accounts it’s just okay at best. He’s also written Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, Pawn Sacrifice, Burnt, Allies and created Taboo, Peaky Blinders and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. So yeah, he’s done stuff. It stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke, Diane Lane and Djimon Hounsou. Which is the point where a lot of people said to me, “Wait, what? That movie exists and I don’t know about it?” Exactly. It’s a neo noir. McConaughey is a fishing boat captain on a tropical island. He spends his days taking people out on his boat, banging Diane Lane and trying to catch his nemesis, a shark that keeps evading him. One day, Hathaway shows up. She’s a femme fatale who knows who he really is and knows his past. She’s his ex-wife. She says her new husband (Clarke) is abusive and beats her and it’s wreaking havoc on their son. She says she wants him to kill him when he arrives. Not a terrible setup, right? Only as you watch, it has a weird vibe to it, to the point where it almost seems awful. There are some odd things that keep happening, like a guy who tries to get a hold of McConaughey but just misses him every time. And then, the midpoint happens. There, the man does find McConaughey, and explains to him that he’s “the rules.” Turns out, all of this is happening in a video game. None of it is real. McConaughey actually died in Afghanistan. His son has created this game using the memories he has of his father (of them going fishing), and uses it to quell his urges to murder his stepfather for abusing his mother. Basically, the game is designed around Hathaway telling McConaughey to kill Clarke, and McConaughey, in the moment, decides to finally catch his nemesis, the shark, instead, thereby preventing the son from actually following up on his urges to kill his father. Yes, it’s as insane as it sounds. So then, we spend the second half of the movie with McConaughey knowing he’s in a video game and testing the boundaries of the rules. He notices everyone is programmed to do and say the same things, but he’s like Neo in the Matrix. He sees that it’s all fake. So it builds to the moment of whether or not he’s gonna let this guy die. It’s absolutely fucking insane. But, I feel like were people to know how insane it is, it’ll make them more likely to want to see it. Because, as nuts as the twist is, to the movie’s credit, the entire thing is built around it. So all the weird shit and the performances and everything that seemed to just be bad actually could be explained by complete continuity to making it all work. Not gonna say it does, but you definitely can see it that way. Also, so many bizarre questions come up when you do realize what’s going on, one of which I will leave you with — so this kid just straight up coded his parents having sex? There’s a sex scene in this movie. If it’s a video game, this kid designed a cutscene where his parents fuck. Or worse, made it playable. Enjoy the movie.

Shazam! * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

The D.C. Universe, to a certain point, is like the runner that stumbles out of the gate and falls flat on their face, and then has to get up and finish the rest of the race. Though, at this point… they’ve kind of righted themselves and have hit a nice little stride wherein they’re making charming little movies (not every time, but you know, something is better than nothing). They realized that interconnecting everything is not really the way to go and are doing what Marvel is doing now — using easter eggs that tie into a larger universe, but casually. Of course, because they’ve fucked up so badly, nothing is casual with them and every time they reference Superman and Batman, all it did was make me cringe at how fucked up those two characters are now because of what they’ve done. But you know… in this new D.C. universe — the Superman, Batman and Justice League movies are all garbage. Suicide Squad was a huge letdown. Wonder Woman was a really entertaining movie that is culturally better than the actual product. Aquaman was just not good. And this… this might be, along with Wonder Woman, the best of the universe so far. (Jury’s still out on what Joker is gonna be in a few months.) They set up an emotional core with the character and give the villain a reason for him doing what he’s doing. The characterization isn’t three-dimensional, but it does reach two-dimensional, which is a step up for these movies. And mostly, it’s just fun. Shazam the character doesn’t show up until about 45 minutes in, but you’re pretty invested up until that point. And ultimately they run out of time with what they get to do with him and have to get back to the “plot” (villain, showdown, etc). But honestly… I though about maybe going 4 stars on this for a minute. But I knew that the minute I did that, the cool down effect that these movies have would have brought it back to 3.5. So I stayed there, and I do not regret it. Still, this was a really fun movie. Zachary Levi is great with what he does, all the foster siblings have distinct personalities and play well together. Mark Strong feels like a more well-rounded villain than we usually get. Overall, it’s hard for me to find real fault with this outside of, “Could have been better.” There’s only upside that wasn’t met, no real major deficiencies. All in all, this was as good a result as we could have possibly hoped out of a D.C. movie.

The Silence — * * * (3 stars)

Netflix version of A Quiet Place. Underground bat-like creatures that can’t see and can only operate on sound are released and start swarming the country. And it’s about a family trying to survive in that aftermath. Stanley Tucci plays the dad, which is nice. And although it is very generic and nowhere near as interesting as A Quiet Place, the cast and the fact that it doesn’t look completely cheap help it come out okay. I was actually engaged by this, rather than just not caring. Which is always a good result. Plus, this movie ends with the family murdering a bunch of extremist religious nut jobs. Hard to get more of a happy ending than that.

Slaughterhouse Rulez * * * (3 stars)

British boarding school comedy. Starts off kinda cute and then the gates of hell open up out in the forest because of a company that’s fracking on the grounds, so then all the kids have to fend off demons and shit for the second half. It’s amusing. Nothing spectacular, but it’s a decent enough watch. Simon Pegg and Michael Sheen and Nick Frost are all having fun, and they got Margot Robbie to do like three minutes of cameos, so that’s amusing. Overall, not something you should go out of your way for, but if you want a breezy 90 minute movie that isn’t great and isn’t terrible, this’ll do.

Someone Great * * * (3 stars)

Netflix comedy. Written and directed by a woman. I was worried in the early stages that it was gonna become the same type of comedy everything else is nowadays, but it maintained its tone and its intentions throughout, so the result is a 3 instead of a 2.5. The difference is really how much I cared. And while I can’t say I really cared and really liked this, I also was engaged more than “whatever.” And honestly, it’s admirable. You could do better, but you could also do far worse.

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This movie was dope. It’s a Hitchcock movie, essentially. A group of militia men show up at their warehouse. News has gotten out that someone shot up a cop funeral, and everyone is on high alert. They find that one of their guns is missing… the kind of gun used at the funeral. The only people with the key are in the warehouse. So now, they need to figure out which one of them did it. And that’s the movie. The one former cop of the bunch interrogates the rest, and the tension completely ratchets up until the finale, when everything comes to a pretty fitting conclusion. The hard thing for a single-location movie like this is maintaining interest and sticking the landing. And I think this does both admirably. A really impressive debut from this director, and one of the more solid movies you will see this year.

State Like Sleep — * * * (3 stars)

Very strange movie. Thought it was actually gonna go somewhere… then it didn’t. Stars Katherine Waterston and Michael Shannon, and they’re the reasons I wanted to see this. Thought it could be a nice neo noir with twists and turns… turned out to just be a generic drama without much substance to it. But the stars got me enough out of it. So I’m fine. Though I still wish it weren’t such a waste of their talents.

Storm Boy — * * * (3 stars)

Sort of an Australian Fly Away Home. Not as charming as that one, but a perfectly decent movie. The epitome of a 3-star movie, this.

Sunset * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Laszlo Nemes’ followup to Son of Saul. It’s not as good as that is. That movie is a harrowing experience that really does a number on you. That’s an emotional experience. This is just a really solid film. He treads somewhat similar ground to that film — the camera is often very tight on its lead, over-the-shoulder and following her throughout scenes… but it doesn’t always stay there. There’s more freedom here, rather than the absolutely rigid style of Son of Saul. To Nemes’ credit, his style does allow for long takes and complicated background action, which feels like a muscle many directors today don’t have and wouldn’t be prepared to use. Just because everything is so formal and heavily-edited. The movie itself is about a woman in pre-World War I Budapest looking for a link to her dead parents. And as she goes around, looking for any link she can, the film becomes more about a city on the eve of war. It’s solid.

Then Came You — * * * (3 stars)

Pretty generic, as setups go. Hypochondriac boy who works at the airport meets terminal girl with a taste for living. She teaches him how to live even though she’s dying and he isn’t. And he’s got a crush on a stewardess, yada yada yada… it goes all the places you expect it to go. Asa Butterfield is fine in the lead, Nina Dobrev is there to look pretty and Maisie Williams gets the spunky dying girl role and does just fine with it. It’s designed to make her look good and it does. This movie does exactly what you expect it to, for better or for worse.

Trading Paint — * * * (3 stars)

Another John Travolta VOD movie. These seem to be his realm now. And it’s a racecar movie, too. He plays a widowed champion stock car racer whose son now carries on the family name by driving their car. Only his son, sick of losing, decides to switch teams and go drive for his dad’s heated rival. Thus creating tensions within the family and leading to Travolta getting back behind the wheel again. It’s as generic as you’d expect. Totally watchable though. At least for me it was, but as I always say, I grew up on these movies. Plus you get Travolta vs. Michael Madsen, which is a nice little bonus.

Triple Frontier * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

J.C. Chandor finally makes another movie. He did Margin Call, which was solid, All Is Lost, which was great, and A Most Violent Year, which was really great. Then he was attached to Deepwater Horizon and was booted off for whatever reason (probably for the best. Movie wasn’t great), and then was attached to this for a few years as they went through various casting issues and being dropped from their studio just before shooting. The result… perfectly solid Netflix movie that is a solid entry into Chandor’s filmography, but doesn’t particularly feel like anything special, at least compared to his last two movies. Good cast — Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal and Garrett Hedlund — but it’s just kind of a decently solid thriller and nothing more. It lacks the spark his last couple of movies had. So I hope he comes back with something great, but I mean, if he’s just gonna churn out solid movies, that works too.

Under the Silver Lake — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

David Robert Mitchell’s followup to It Follows. It seems clear that he’s on his own level of what he wants to do. He made a ensemble teen coming-of-age movie, then a horror movie with a great concept, and now a… I don’t even know what you’d classify this as. And I think that’s why it sat on the shelf for over a year. Because no one knew how to sell this. It’s a detective movie, but through a hipster and stoner filter. Andrew Garfield is a guy who just is not paying his rent and gets high all day in his apartment, pretending to make it in Hollywood, and one day he meets his hot neighbor, who sleeps with him and then completely disappears the next day. So he starts going around his neighborhood (guess which one), to various parties and things, trying to figure out what happened. And, in the vein of classic detective stories, he stumbles upon conspiracy theorists and all sorts of weird shit along the way. It definitely fits the detective story model, but it’s also deliberately weird on top of that. Probably too weird for mainstream audiences. I definitely enjoyed this and thought it did a good job of accomplishing what it set out to accomplish, I’m just not sure how much I ultimately cared in the end. Still, looked nice, and despite being about twenty-to-twenty-five minutes too long, I was fine with it.

Unicorn Store * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is one of those movies that will only appeal to a certain section of the population. Took me a little bit to get into it, because the style of comedy and acting in this is very particular and could turn a lot of people off. Almost turned me off. But in the end, this is one of those movies where you have to have the mindset of a child or be able to tap into your inner child in order to find the joy that’s in this. And as we know, I’m very much that person. So while I enjoyed this more than the average person would, I’m not gonna claim it’s anything particularly special. But I will say… this was lovely. It’s about growing up while also not letting your belief in childlike wonder die. I’m glad it exists and I’m sorry for everyone who’s too old and jaded to appreciate this for what it is.

Untogether — * * * (3 stars)

Adult drama. These are rare. Unfortunately they’re not always good. This one is watchable, but not great. Stars Jamie Dornan, Lola Kirke, Jemima Kirke, Ben Mendelsohn, Alice Eve, Scott Caan, Jennifer Grey and Billy Crystal. Very much a Tribeca-style indie. Wouldn’t be surprised if it premiered there. It’s got that feel to it. Jemima plays a writer with writer’s block. Dornan plays a doctor who wrote a memoir about his experiences during war. Mendelsohn plays an aging rockstar dating Lola, Jemima’s sister (which is a nice touch). There are adult problems here. All the actors are game, and it’s largely only interesting because of them. It’s got a lot of generic indie tropes, though, which I’m not a fan of. So be prepared for that if you bother to even watch it.

The Upside — * * * (3 stars)

This is the American remake of The Intouchables with Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart. They’ve shelved this for almost two years, but it’s only because of the Weinstein Company going bankrupt, not for any other reason. And honestly… it’s a fine enough movie. It’s Americanized, but it keeps a lot of the stuff that made the original work. The two of them are actually quite good, and while there are some clunky moments and some of the movie falls flat, tonally, I think it’s a perfectly decent movie that’s one of those you’ll find on cable in a few years and think, “You know, that was okay.”

Us * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

People were gonna say this was really good no matter how it was. Which is something I was prepared for. Honestly, I was surprised I enjoyed this as much as I did. I thought I was gonna think it was far inferior to Get Out (which I didn’t love nearly as much as everyone else did). I think it’s inferior, but I’m not sure it’s that inferior than I was expecting. I think Peele makes a really solid and engaging horror movie. Though unlike Get Out, which is smaller in scope and feels more complete, this one opens up too much and brings far too many questions that the movie is ultimately unable to answer. The minute they reveal what’s going on, you immediately start asking questions… namely, “So these people were just down there and someone knew about it and did nothing?” Or, “What happens when someone moves across the country? Do the people move?” I know it’s a metaphor for class inequality and all that, and a lot of the questions can be answered by saying “It’s a metaphor.” But even so… the movie should keep me invested, rather than asking questions as I watch, which takes me out of the movie. Then there’s that final twist, which he admittedly set up in the beginning, so it’s not like it comes out of nowhere, but it also adds a lot of questions and feels almost like Christopher Nolan ending Inception just to give the audience that “moment” at the end. Still, I think it’s a very solid movie with a lot of entertaining stuff in it. It’s very solid and is very much worth seeing. I’m just not sure I think it’s a masterpiece. I think it’s just a good piece of entertainment.

The Vanishing — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is a slowly-paced drama about three lighthouse keepers. Very much an acting showcase for the leads, two of whom are Peter Mullan and Gerard Butler. It’s loosely based on a real story (though I think a lot of the particulars are made up), and doesn’t really devolve into anything particularly action-heavy or horror or anything too genre-y. The acting might get a bit much, but I’ve also never really seen Butler do drama, so that was a nice change from him doing action movies where he stabs people in the face. Overall, I thought this was solid. Movie’s not entirely there, but I like when movies do enough to at least make me think about the other possibilities inherent in the setup. And that’s what got me through.

Velvet Buzzsaw — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I appreciate Dan Gilroy’s determination to make genre movies. They feel elevated, but they’re all grounded in the tradition of genre movies. Nightcrawler is a straight B movie noir, Roman J. Israel is similar, but more of a morality tale kind of movie in a similar vein. This is a campy, B movie horror. Again, it’s not played as campy… but come on, guys. Jake Gyllenhaal is turned to 11 in this movie. It’s deliberately weird, and I was here for it. It’s not the greatest movie ever, and I definitely liked both Nightcrawler and Roman J. Israel better than I liked this. But this is just so… it feels like a complete piece. I like a lot of aspects of this even if I’m not as in love with the entire piece. Still, it’s worth seeing. This is such a weird and unique movie.

Walk Ride Rodeo * * ½ (2.5 stars)

This is one of the absolute worst Netflix movies I’ve ever seen. This is the closest they’ve come to overly religious movie, and it shows. It’s based on a real memoir of an aspiring rodeo rider who gets in a horrible car crash. And the title is based on what she said her goals were, post-accident. It’s supposed to be an uplifting family movie, but the writing and directing and everything is just so low-rent… it feels like a cheesy Hallmark movie.

What Men Want * * ½ (2.5 stars)

It’s the female version of What Women Want. Problem is… it doesn’t really do anything with that concept. It’s the broadest, most generic version of “what if a woman could hear mens’ thoughts” you could possibly come up with. It veers into romance and that part almost works, but it’s belittled by how obvious the writing is for the rest of the movie. Why can’t studio comedies actually have a personality anymore? Why must they feel so overly developed and not actually have any real laughs in them? Everything in this you’ve seen before, which begs the question… what’s the point? You had a point when you chose to do this, but you lost it along the way and now we’re left with yet another generic comedy that will be forgotten by year’s end, if it hasn’t been already.

The Wind * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This movie’s entirely atmospheric. Almost like The Witch in the old west. Not entirely. But that’s the vibe they’re going for. Long, slow movie where people slowly lose their shit. This one’s much more overt. Not necessarily about whether or not something supernatural really is going on, but more like… it’s all much more out there than The Witch was. I had high hopes for this when I first saw the trailer, but really… it’s just okay. The movie’s okay, but the way they shot it was solid. So I give it the slight western bump, but I will say, from what I was hoping this movie would be versus what it actually was… kinda wish it was more of what I was hoping it would be. Still, solid effort from a first time (female) director (also by a female writer).

Wonder Park * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Generic animated movie. Nothing of interest here. Not for me at all.

The Films I Haven’t Seen Yet

  • To Dust
  • Greta
  • Gloria Bell
  • The Kid
  • The Aftermath
  • Starfish
  • The Mustang
  • Hotel Mumbai
  • The Best of Enemies
  • The Public
  • Amazing Grace
  • Little
  • Teen Spirit
  • Breakthrough
  • Fast Color
  • Stockholm
  • Stuck
  • The White Crow

Favorite Movies So Far

  • Freaks
  • The Beach Bum
  • The Standoff at Sparrow Creek
  • Piercing
  • Polar
  • Shazam!
  • Fighting with My Family
  • High Flying Bird
  • Velvet Buzzsaw
  • Avengers: Endgame

– – – – – – – – – – –

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