2019: The Year in Reviews (Part II)
Second batch of reviews for 2019. This will cover everything I watched between May and August.
I feel like I’ve watched a lot less in this portion of the year than I have in years past. I’ve even straight up got about 15 movies sitting on my desktop, waiting to be watched, that normally I’d have made sure I watched specifically for this article. But this year, watching movies has been secondary to me to watching other stuff and writing. I’ve routinely not watched anything for 2-3 weeks and let stuff pile up. Though at this point, I’m just watching what I watch and that’s that. Though I think less movies came out this year than last year. I’m not gonna go look, but that’s what it feels like.
I’ve also been doing my best to get the last of the Top Ten lists done, gearing up for next year, which — next year is balls to the wall content. Til then, you’re just gonna have to make due til Thanksgiving. It’ll be worth it.
Here’s all the stuff I saw between May and now:
47 Meters Down: Uncaged — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
The first one wasn’t particularly good, and it’s a sequel. What more could you expect? It’s a shark movie. You know what you’re getting. Didn’t do anything for me at all. It’s watchable in a generic way, though.
Above the Shadows — * * * (3 stars)
Weird little movie. Stars Olivia Thirlby, and that’s why I watched it, because I like her and wish she were in more things. She plays a woman who, after the death of her mother when she was younger, just disappeared from the world. Her family just stopped being able to see or hear her and pretty soon she became invisible to everyone else. And then one day, she discovers that one other person can see her. So it’s one of those where it’s clearly a metaphor for some shit they’re going through and… it’s not the greatest movie. But I was engaged. These are the kinds of movies that I do better with than most. I’m not gonna say anyone should see it, but there’s a kernel of an idea here that might be good for some creative types who could look to use it for something they want to work on and take it in a different direction. To me, that’s just as good as a movie being slightly better than forgettable.
The Aftermath — * * * (3 stars)
Fox Searchlight special. Would have been a Weinstein special five years ago. The period romantic drama that is just meh all around with great people in it that gets quietly released in like two theaters in the spring and no one knows it exists. Stars Keira Knightley and Jason Clarke as a married couple in post-WWII Germany who move in with Alexander Skarsgard, a German. One of those, “We won, so now our commanders are gonna take over your houses as we occupy your country and fix shit to how we want it to be.” So naturally Keira and Skarsgard start fucking… you know the deal. 100% this was a novel first that they optioned to make. That’s the only way something like this gets made without an A-list director attached. It’s just… I like the people in it, but there’s not much here or value. It’s exactly what you expect it to be, and this type of movie just feels tiresome in a 2019 world.
After the Wedding — * * * (3 stars)
It’s an Americanized of the Foreign Language-nominated movie from 2006 with Mads Mikkelsen. They swapped genders, so the main two characters are women and the link is the husband, but otherwise it’s pretty much the same movie. What I find interesting about this is that a lot of people are gonna say, “The original is so much better and this is just whatever.” And I’m firmly convinced that the only reason people consider those movies so much better is because they’re in another language and there’s this air of… something we put on them when they’re foreign. I think Michael Haneke figured that out when he remade Funny Games, shot for shot. And people fucking hated the remake. And I think it’s because we don’t nitpick things like dialogue when we can’t understand it. My point is, when you’re gonna criticize this movie, none of the blame will ever go to the source material, and from what I can remember, they’re kinda the same movie. Person who helps run an orphanage in India has to come back home to try to convince a rich businessperson to give them funding. The businessperson invites them to their child’s wedding, and while there, the person realizes the businessperson’s significant other is someone they knew from a long time ago, and (insert title here) a bunch of things come out that are all emotional. Before we get back into my theory or whatever the hell it is, know that Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore and Billy Crudup are all good here, and Abby Quinn is also good as the daughter. The movie feels kind of by the numbers, or rather like an assembly line melodrama. But honestly, that’s the original too. Every year, all these well-regarded foreign films get this lavish praise by everyone, and then I see them and I go, “It’s just okay.” And I’m convinced it’s because we have this thing where, because they’re foreign, we automatically inflate our feelings because we assume they’re more sophisticated. But it’s the same shit. And no one ever stops to consider it when they remake them in English with the same exact source material. And it’s not like that movie can’t be translated. Some movies can’t. This one — totally fine. No issues there whatsoever. I’m not sure what the ultimate point here is, but I think there is something to be said that people are willfully (and to an extent, hypocritically) overlooking. I also took the time to say all that because I know for a fact no one actually saw this movie and most people don’t even know it exists, even though there are nine Oscar nominations and a win at the top of the cast.
Aladdin — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Disney’s second of three live-action remakes to come out this year. Arguably the one best-suited to the live-action remake treatment. Though at this point, the question with all of these is always, “Why? Why bother?” And the answer is always money. Everyone’s stupid enough to keep going to see them so they’ll keep making them until they run out. Hell, at a certain point, they might just start making sequels to the remakes just to see if people will still come. (Update: Literally the day I wrote this review, they announced they were working on a sequel to this movie. Which pretty much better be Return of Jafar, am I right, guys?) Kudos to them for having a non-white cast. And not making the Will Smith genie look as creepy as he did in all the set photos they put out earlier this year. But ultimately, you’re remaking the exact same movie we all grew up with and can basically quote from beginning to end. So what’s the point, a lot of it looks weird, and you added shit that isn’t great. In the case of both this and the Lion King, they gave the female lead an extra song, but it feels so out of place, because the songs are written from a 2019 standpoint and just don’t sound the same as the others and stick out really badly. But honestly, the core of the original script still being there means I was sufficiently entertained. But this is an empty 3.5, you know? I saw it, I don’t hate it (because ultimately it’s the audience’s fault. You want them to stop, stop going. The impetus here is on you), and I won’t ever have to see it again and can just go back to the original I grew up with.
All Creatures Here and Below — * * * (3 stars)
Tiny little indie about an incestuous brother and sister who go on the run after stealing a baby. It’s watchable. Doesn’t go anywhere particularly interesting and doesn’t have performances I’d rave about enough to truly recommend to people. But it was written by the lead actor, so good for him for giving himself a showcase.
Always Be My Maybe — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Delightful little rom com with Randall Park and Ali Wong, also co-written by them as well. Their characters grew up as best friends, slept together in high school (or college, I forget), it was awkward, and then they lost touch. So now, ten years later, she’s a hotshot celebrity chef and he’s just kind of fucking around with his band still and not really doing anything with his life. And he starts to come around on the fact that he does actually love her… just as she isn’t quite ready to do it. It’s a really sweet little movie. A lot has been made about the cameo in the middle, which is a lot of fun. Mostly what I like is how they handle the ending. Not so much the, “Oh man, she’s loved me all along” bit, but more the grand gesture and the actual final scene. I loved the final scene a lot. It’s a very sweet movie. People are making a bit too much of the overall quality of this, but I don’t even care, because this is the kind of movie that deserves to be supported to the high heavens. They wrote it themselves, they star in it, it’s got a female director, it’s representation galore. Give me this any day over like 90% of the shit Netflix puts out.
American Exit — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
A dead serious crime movie starring Dane Cook. That’s right, and that’s why I watched it. Now you don’t have to, because it’s not good. I mean, good on him for doing drama and not really seeming terrible at it. The movie’s not very good, which doesn’t help him, but he’s not awful in it. So there’s that. Otherwise there’s not a whole lot to recommend here, except a small supporting performance by Udo Kier. So I guess there’s that?
Angel Has Fallen — * * * (3 stars)
We know how this franchise works — someone tries to kill the President, Gerard Butler beats the shit out of them, he probably stabs some people in the face, and we all go home moderately entertained. What more can you ask for? This is exactly the same as all the other movies in this franchise. No better, no worse. Only here, Gerard Butler is on the run because they think he tried to assassinate the President this time. You’d think after all the other very high profile times he’s saved one, maybe they’d give him some benefit of the doubt. But no, we’ve got faces to stab.
The Angry Birds Movie 2 — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Hated the first one, really didn’t give a shit about the second one. Which might just me reaching the age of shrugging things off as opposed to just getting pissed off that they exist. First one made $350 million worldwide, so you knew this was inevitable. Still, this is just lazy filmmaking designed to make money. There’s nothing of substance here.
Anna — * * * (3 stars)
Luc Besson really likes making the same three movies over and over, doesn’t he? This is him redoing La Femme Nikita yet again. I mean, sure. Go ahead. It’s fine. He cast a model as the lead, and she’s okay. The role doesn’t demand a whole lot and she’s up for the challenge. He puts big actors around her, namely Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy and Helen Mirren. It’s… it’s fine. It’s not great, it’s clearly reminiscent of the other times he’s made this same movie, and it’s totally watchable. It’s exactly what you expect it to be, and these kinds of movies are perfect junk food for me. So I’m fine with it.
Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut — * * * * * (5 stars)
Technically not a 2019 movie, but also sorta yes. Coppola recut the movie again, because with Redux he went back in and added everything there was to add. So a two-and-a-half hour movie went to three-and-a-half hours. Here, he cuts a lot of the stuff out and leaves some of it, clocking the final product in at a cool three hours. I wanted to see this on a big screen again, so I went to the screenings they had for this two weeks ago. And I’ll say — the movie is as perfect as ever. They took real care to remaster the sound mix, which is the highlight of the film for me, even more so than the masterful direction and Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography. In Redux, the scenes I specifically remember as being added were — them stealing Kilgore’s surfboard and the audio message he sends upriver after them, them meeting the playmates again upriver, the plantation sequence, and then more scenes with Brando in full daylight. The surfboard scene was amusing and I’ve always been ambivalent about it. Because it doesn’t detract from the movie, but I do believe that in the original cut, Duvall’s last moment on the screen was, “Someday this war’s gonna end,” and then he gets up and walks out of frame. Which is just a perfect ending to the character. (Kinda like how, and I can’t remember how much is from the theatrical or Redux, but Dennis Hopper’s character in this — his final line is when Brando gets mad at him for talking over his poetry and he goes, “That’s how it ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper, and with a whimper, I am fucking splitting, Jack” and he leaves. Which is a perfect ending to his character.) But those two scenes are still there, and it really doesn’t make a difference one way or the other. He cut the extra playmate stuff, which was just weird and totally unnecessary. He did leave the plantation sequence, which you can just feel in the moment grinds the film’s pacing down to a halt. I don’t know why he left it in, to be honest. Though judging from the fact that he added more shots of Harrison Ford and Laurence Fishburne throughout (cutaways that you just know weren’t there before, designed to give them a few seconds more screen time) and the fact that he’s got family members in that scene, I’m thinking he left it for that. Though it does, thematically, give you something, but still, it’s so slow and pointless it takes away from the film’s tone. You’re going up river and getting scarier and more into the proverbial “heart of darkness,” and here’s this weird interlude where they go smoke morphine and argue with French people. It’s really weird. Fortunately, he does cut the Brando stuff, which, while more Brando is always a good thing, it’s cool to keep him in shadows and goes back to keeping the character to its core. Which I really appreciated. Honestly, the film is perfect and I’ll always appreciate it in any form. It’s one of my five favorite movies of all time, so there’s not much he can do to it to change that. Honestly, with this cut, I only think the plantation sequence is unnecessary, but otherwise it’s better in every other aspect (mostly technically. The sound is incredible here). If I were showing this to someone who hadn’t seen it, I’d start them with the theatrical cut and do it the way I did it. Start with the original, throw everything in, then show them the version he wants you to see, and they can go from there.
Apollo 11 — * * * * (4 stars)
Incredible documentary about the Apollo 11 launch. It makes a great companion piece to First Man, which I feel is already a horribly underseen movie. This has the benefit of having no narration and no cutaways to things. It’s just straight up footage (a lot of which had never been seen before) and audio direct from newscasts and interviews and things from the time. They don’t try to build a narrative here. It’s straight up just footage, and it’s thrilling to watch. The way they put this together is how I wish they put a lot of documentaries together. Don’t put talking heads, don’t narrate over it unless you’re Werner Herzog. Just show me the footage and use original source audio. Hell, worked for They Shall Not Grow Old, didn’t it?
The Art of Racing in the Rain — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Why are we overrun with dog movies now? Where did this come from? Just because the books sell money? Whatever. They’re all bad. This one, at least, has a real pedigree behind it and feels better made than the rest. But still, like the rest, I didn’t give a shit. Kevin Costner narrates as the dog, and it’s got this weird depressing tone to it. There’s nothing joyful about this movie at all. It’s not even really about the dog. It’s about a race car driver we never really see race and his eventual wife, who, spoiler alert, dies. I guess this is the kind of book people buy in airports? No fucking clue. These movies aren’t for me at all.
Astronaut — * * * (3 stars)
I’m at the age (and let’s face it, I’ve always been at the age) where I’ll watch Richard Dreyfuss in anything. I have consistently (and a lot lately, too) said how he has a fantastic filmography that so many people just don’t know about. He made such great choices in the 70s and 80s and so many of the movies have just been forgotten about by history. There’s always the big ones, and those will always put him in a certain place, historically. But I’m talking about stuff like Let It Ride, and Inserts and Whose Life Is It Anyway? and The Competition. They’re really interesting movies that take on really interesting subjects and give him fantastic roles to play. Anyway, the point is, I’ll watch him in anything, even stuff like now, where it’s not that great. We’ll get to another one a little way’s down this list that’s pretty ehh. But still, more of him. Here, he plays an old dude who enters a contest to go on a civilian voyage to space. Some billionaire is taking a flight to space with one lucky regular person, and he’s trying to be that person because he’s always loved space. That’s it, really. The story’s pretty thing and they sprinkle a lot of the usual stuff on it — the family’s gonna put him in a home, and his son-in-law got fired but hasn’t told his wife… all that shit. It’s not a great movie, but it gives Richard Dreyfuss a leading role, which I don’t get to see much anymore and am grateful for.
The Banana Splits Movie — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I saw the title come across the proverbial desk and went, “What?” And I assumed it was animated. Then I saw that it was low budget and shitty, I went, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And then I saw the trailer, and saw that they had the song in it, and the characters, which means that the brand actually allowed them to use it, which made it more interesting to me. Also, that trailer — go watch it. Either you’ll roll your eyes or you’ll go, “Oh my god, this looks awful. I have to see it.” And that’s what I did. I knew full well I wouldn’t like it, but goddamn, was it worth seeing. I am fascinated by how this got made. How did they convince the rights holders to do this? Because there weren’t any other ideas? Because maybe they thought this would propel the brand into the mainstream again and allow them to try to sell more merch without this being a stain on the reputation? Or did they actually have lofty ideas and think, “Well, worked for Sabrina. We can do that”? I don’t know. But thinking about all of this is what got me through this movie, which is the kind of thing that raises more questions than it provides entertainment.
Beats — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Really fantastic little movie. It’s on Netflix. It’s about a kid who survives a shooting during which his sister gets killed. And he’s got severe PTSD and hasn’t gone to school in months. Anthony Anderson, meanwhile, is a fledgling music producer now working as a security guard for the school. And the principal (his estranged wife) tells him he needs to get a handful of kids to come back. So he goes around, and eventually meets up with this kid, who is a musical savant and fantastic at coming up with hip hop beats. So the film is about him trying to get this kid to hit it big while also starting a relationship with him and helping him get over his trauma. It’s really well done. And it again (which I think and hope we already knew) it shows us just what a great actor Anthony Anderson is and how underutilized he’s been throughout his entire career.
The Best of Enemies — * * * (3 stars)
This is one of those movies that sounded like a possible good idea that just… didn’t work out. It’s about school integration in North Carolina in the 70s. And the issue is fought over by a Civil Rights activist (Taraji P. Henson) and a senior member of the KKK (Sam Rockwell). And of course, they eventually have to work together on a committee, and become friends, yada yada yada. It’s got that tone of taking things very superficially and keeping a sort of fun tone. And considering how things were around race in the south… probably not the best way to do it. They tried here, but it just doesn’t come together. It’s watchable, it’s just not that great a movie. Some things just don’t come together.
The Biggest Little Farm — * * * (3 stars)
Pleasant little documentary about a couple who decide to go run a farm. That’s pretty much it. The first bit is them deciding to do it and knowing nothing about it as they go off. Then we see them running into all sorts of issues as they get it off the ground. Then… things just sort of go well, and isn’t that nice. I can see why this got press and was put out theatrically in a semi-major way — it’s begging to be some nice little movie that will inevitably be shitty. It’s like We Bought a Zoo, only We Started a Farm. Shit white people do. But it’s likable enough. I generally don’t care about documentaries, but this was fine.
The Black Godfather — * * * * (4 stars)
This is a documentary about Clarence Avant, a man who knows just about everyone. He started in music in the 50s and 60s, and is literally just the godfather of everyone. They have a scene where Obama’s like, “I went and talked to him before I ran.” That’s the kind of shit this guy does. He was the guy that they brought in to negotiate stuff. He ran record labels, found various hit music acts, but mostly he’s the guy who didn’t give a fuck and was just like, “Give this man a fair deal.” It’s literally like The Godfather. He’ll do favors for people who need them without really asking for anything in return except friendship and connections. It’s awesome. One of the better documentaries I’ve seen recently.
Blinded by the Light — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Make no mistake, this is Bend It Like Beckham but with Bruce Springsteen. Same exact plot, complete with person leaving a wedding to do the thing their parents don’t want them to do. However, despite that, it is a love letter to Bruce Springsteen, complete with a bunch of his songs constantly playing. Which is a worse way to construct a movie. And also, it’s just a feel-good kind of movie. It’s not original, but it’s fun. And it makes you feel good. So who cares? Give me this over most summer bullshit.
Booksmart — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Lovely movie. I’ll start by saying what I need to say — this does not reinvent any wheel. It does not break any new ground. It does not really do anything that, on paper, feels like “oh my god, that’s something I’ve never seen before/that version of that scene is so much funnier than in all the other movies like this.” That must be said, because I think this is in danger of that collective overrating that happens when movies like this break out. That said… it’s awesome. It’s so much fun. It feels fresh in a lot of ways. Even when they do scenes that you kind of have to based on the genre its in, they don’t feel stale or predictable. The chemistry between Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever is amazing, and it really helps carry the movie. Plus, it’s got a refreshing female-driven perspective, and it’s one of those movies that always keeps you smiling. The doll scene was a nice touch, and even when they introduced stereotyped characters, their dialogue never felt too one-note. Everything felt like it was handled really well, and I am always going to completely support this movie and everything about it. These are the types of movies that should start getting out there more (and to put a slightly finer point on it… female-driven comedies written by women that don’t feel as though all the notes and rewrites were done to make it seem more like a generic dude comedy, almost all of which nowadays are straight garbage).
Breakthrough — * ½ (1.5 stars)
I fucking hate these religious movies so much. It’s literally a movie about a kid who drowns in a lake and his mother, who thinks she brought him back from the dead by praying really loudly. I will say this and then I will say no more — No.
Brightburn — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
An incredible idea for a movie (and not done shaky cam, which makes it all the better): what if boy Superman showed up… only he wasn’t Superman? So you watch this kid slowly turn into a super villain as he grows up. It’s a great idea, and well-executed. It’s not amazing by any stretch, but it’s got a couple of moments that really stood out to me. Particularly in terms of how they handled violence in a low budget setting without making it feel excessive. First was the scene in the diner, and a moment involving a piece of glass. The other was the car crash a little later in the film, and how they handled what happens to someone’s jaw. Those felt really well done. And overall, this movie goes about as I expected it to, and it’s just a solid piece of work all around.
Burn Your Maps — * * * (3 stars)
Weird movie that they shelved for like three years because they couldn’t figure out what the hell to do with it because it’s completely impossible to sell to an audience. The director previously made Around the Bend, which I loved when I was 16, and 3,2,1… Frankie Go Boom, which I also appreciated quite a bit (mainly for the Lizzie Caplan performance, but the movie itself was fairly solid). This is about a boy who doesn’t really fit in who decides he’s really a Mongolian goat herder and needs to go back to his “home” and fulfill his destiny. And that’s it. Vera Farmiga plays his mother, and she goes on the journey with him. And it’s just a weird movie about a kid going to Mongolia to herd goats. Very indie, a lot of “kooky” characters that you’d expect. Nothing particularly new or interesting. But you know, it’s decent, because the director makes decent movies. Still don’t know who would ever deliberately watch this outside of knowing who directed it or for the cast, though.
The Chaperone — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I was interested because it was a movie about Louise Brooks and also because it stars Haley Lu Richardson, who I really liked in The Bronze and then was great in Columbus (and other things). The movie… well, they ended up being released by PBS, so that should tell you a lot. It’s fine, but it feels like a TV movie. It deals with a very specific period in her life before she got famous. So you can see the things for which she’d become known starting to take shape, but the story just isn’t all that interesting. And it focuses a lot on her actual chaperone and her search for her real parents. Doesn’t really work all that well, even though it was written by Julian Fellowes. Oh well.
Charlie Says — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Movie about the Manson family. Matt Smith plays Charlie. It’s… well, it’s not the Hilary Duff Sharon Tate movie. I’ll say that much. Otherwise, I didn’t care. I really am not remotely interested in anything related to Manson or the Manson family, so this movie was basically torture for me to get through. They did cast a lot of cool, up and coming actresses in the movie, so I guess there’s that. But this was never going to be a movie for me at all.
Child’s Play — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Oh, great. A remake of a movie that has a cult following because the doll is so memorably but otherwise has never been particularly good in any way. This reconfigures it, makes the doll look like it had work done, had Mark Hamill voice it like Brigsby Bear, and turned it into a pretty standard “doll starts killing people and the kid finds out but no one believes him” movie. Didn’t really do anything to make me go from “don’t care” to “okay, that was decent.” These movies aren’t for me, and it was never gonna go well for me watching it. I just don’t care.
City of Lies — * * * (3 stars)
This is that movie about Johnny Depp as the detective trying to solve Biggie and Tupac’s murders. Weird choice, but honestly, he’s committed to it, and the more Depp works, the more he reminds you that first and foremost he’s an actor who will give it everything he’s got, even if the movie’s not great. This movie… not great, but directed by Brad Furman, who directed The Lincoln Lawyer and The Infiltrator, which were really solid movies. So he can make something watchable, which is what he does here. Only problem is… you made a movie about two murders that we’re pretty much never gonna find the answers for, even though we pretty much already know what happened anyway. Oh, also, if you’ve been following and tracking stuff the way I have, you will recognize this as the movie that, 15 years ago, was going to star and be directed and written by Sylvester Stallone. So yeah. They finally made that movie.
Crawl — * * * (3 stars)
Just your average movie about a girl and her father trying to escape a flooded house and being chased by giant alligators. Directed by Alexandre Aja, who did Piranha 3D and that movie Horns with Daniel Radcliffe having devil horns. It’s… honestly it’s fine. It’s the disaster/creature movie you’d expect. It’s no different than Anaconda. The only difference is, people my age grew up with Anaconda, so it had that special blend of 90s-ness to it that you might hold in higher regard than something that came out this year. But still. It’s totally fine. Stars Kaya Scodelario, who is always solid in stuff, and Barry Pepper, who is also always solid but never gets the right kind of role to be anything other than “grizzly dude with beard who makes his own knives” anymore.
Dark Phoenix — * * * (3 stars)
Well, the X-Men franchise went out with a whimper. That was a steep drop-off, wasn’t it? Oh maybe the movies just have never been good and we never realized it because we weren’t as spoiled with consistently superior product before now. I still like the first two, and I think First Class is solid and Days of Future Past is great, but everything else is varying degrees from “ehh” to “oh boy.” Even the Wolverine movies. We went from “ehh” to, “okay, that was fine I guess,” to “holy shit, that was amazing.” But that’s not X-Men proper. So yeah. The last two movies were… it’s clear no one really wanted to be there. Apocalypse, Jennifer Lawrence looked so unhappy to be there they had to kill her in this movie to get rid of her. Michael Fassbender tried in Apocalypse, but seems to be going through the motions here. Everyone seems to be going through the motions here. They already did Dark Phoenix, and now they’re doing it again… but younger. And Jessica Chastain’s character really doesn’t need to be there? And then there’s that whole thing where the end of the movie is literally Captain Marvel, even after they had to reshoot the entire third act because the villains were going to be Skrulls and they saw Captain Marvel and went “oh fuck.” Not that it matters. There’s literally nothing memorable in this entire movie. The only thing they did right, to sort of put a nice tack on the end of it and tie it into everything else is — and I’m about to spoil this for you because it doesn’t matter. Marvel’s gonna take this over and in five years we’ll have a whole new set of X-Men — they end it with Xavier and Magneto sitting down for a game of chess, which is exactly where we found them at the beginning of the first movie. So that’s a nice ending. But it’s kind of like how Men in Black III, after being abject garbage for most of it, ended on a really sweet note with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. It’s literally that. It’s not enough to overcome the uselessness of everything around it, but when taken in conjunction with 20 years of X-Men movies, is a nice way to tie up the whole thing. But man… what a disaster this was. Way to literally lower the bar to nothing for Marvel, just like Sony did with Spider-Man.
Daughter of the Wolf — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Generic movie (that I think was made in Canada) about Gina Carano as a woman trying to get her daughter back after some kidnappers took her for ransom. Not great, but I watched it because Richard Dreyfuss was in it. I thought he’d be her father or something, but turns out, he’s the head kidnapper. Weird choice, but okay. Not worth seeing at all, unless you love Richard Dreyfuss as much as I do.
The Dead Don’t Die — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Jim Jarmusch made a zombie movie. Which… okay. It’s the slowest-paced zombie movie ever, where it’s just a series of scenes that string together with people eventually dying. The thing with Jarmusch movies is… nothing really happens, but they’re always interesting. Here, it’s a cavalcade of cameos where everyone gets their ten minutes of screen time. And it works. It’s a Jim Jarmusch movie. They’re all of the same level of quality, and that’s a good one.
Detective Pikachu — * * * (3 stars)
So they made the first live-action Pokémon movie. And… not as embarrassing as I would have thought. Of course, not really Pokémon, but it’s dipping a toe in the water. And it opened pretty soft, I think, based on what they were hoping for. Which is really due to one factor and one factor only… they didn’t cast Danny DeVito as Pikachu. Or that it wasn’t Pokémon proper. Who’s to say, really. Still, it’s a detective story about the son of a detective who tries investigating his disappearance with a Pikachu who was his partner. Problem is… not really that much of a mystery and also a pretty obvious answer as to what happened. But, you know… Pokémon! That’s supposed to be the draw here. It’s… it’s the kind of movie that they spent so much money on that it was gonna be watchable by default. But it’s just nothing more than that. I’ll be curious to see if they continue this
A Dog’s Journey — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Why are we still making these dog movies? This is the sequel movie to A Dog’s Purpose. Apparently no animal cruelty in this one. I mean… the first one was abject garbage. This one I just couldn’t work up the effort to care about. Your happy ending is the dog being reunited with Dennis Quaid in death? I mean, I guess death is a good alternative to this movie, but still. Who are these for? Do these movies work for people?
Domino — * * * (3 stars)
This is a Brian De Palma movie, but I bet fans of his wish it weren’t. He… hasn’t exactly put out his best work over the past 15 years, and this one was in danger of never coming out. It’s pretty much a generic cop movie. Cop sets out to avenge his partner’s death, all while uncovering some personal secrets about his partner that make things difficult. It’s… whatever. It’s generic enough to be fine. Mostly you just wish that this weren’t on Brian De Palma’s resume after all the amazing work he’s done over the years.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold — * * * (3 stars)
This… was actually kinda fun? Of course, from the outset, a Dora the Explorer movie produced by Michael Bay’s company… which brought us those Ninja Turtles movies… not the greatest idea. But he cast Isabela Moner, who he worked with on Transformers 5, and who was very good in that. And she was also great in Sicario 2. And the route they took for the story… could have gone very wrong. But it’s got an innocence to it that just makes it clean family fun. They play off the persona of the show and use it pretty well, and the story doesn’t get too Indiana Jones, which was always a pitfall. And they work in the animation from the show in a fun little way too. I thought it was actually kinda good. But good in this sense just means, I expected it to be awful and actually was fairly entertained by it. It’s not a great movie by any stretch, but it’s the kind of movie… this is the kind of thing where, in my younger days, I’d have a younger family member watch it and be there for it and find myself occasionally laughing and not despising it. That’s the kind of movie this is. And I appreciate that.
Driven — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
The first of two John DeLorean movies to come out this year. The one that’s got all the press is that one with Alec Baldwin. I’ve yet to see that one but they seem to both be dealing with the same story. That one seems to be taking a documentary/re-enactment kind of approach, while this one tells the story from the perspective of the FBI informant. (Oh, yeah, if you don’t know the story, it’s interesting.) So they’re fundamentally two different movies. This one is taking that pop-y kind of route. Like, you remember American Made, with Tom Cruise? That tone. It wants to be like all those other crime movies you like, but is sort of post-whatever that style is, so it’s not as good, but it makes it kinda fun. Jason Sudeikis plays the informant, Judy Greer plays his wife, and Lee Pace plays DeLorean, and delivers a really fine performance at that. Oh, and Corey Stoll plays the FBI agent, and he’s awesome. The movie’s pretty fun overall. Not great, but it’s got its moments. And like I said, the tone is such that you can definitely get through it and be okay. I happened to be more engaged than I thought I would, so I went the 3.5 instead of 3. Good on them. This was fun.
Escape Plan: The Extractors — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
They shot this back to back with the second one. This is a completely disposable franchise in every way. And yet… I’ve seen all three. The first one some people saw. The second one nobody saw. If it’s even possible, even less people will see this. The first two are about escaping prisons. This third one is a straight up revenge movie. And it’s not good. So we’ll leave it at that and move on, leaving people to wonder, “They made three of these movies?”
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
It’s that Netflix Ted Bundy movie. That is really about Ted’s girlfriend and trial than, you know… all the murders. They really don’t show him directly kill anyone. Maybe a flash of one, but that’s about it. It’s about how his girlfriend had no idea who he was and how he defended himself on trial. And you know what I say about trial movies… always interesting. And that was what led the way for me. Efron is good as Bundy, and it’s an interesting movie. Not gonna say it’s amazing or that it’s as good as my rating. But I enjoyed it. And I imagine this isn’t what people would want given the true crime nature of his story. But I will say, before everyone says, “The Netflix documentary is so much better than this”… they dude who directed that also directed this. So he gets credit or blame for both. Just saying.
The Farewell — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This movie is so lovely. It was huge out of Sundance and it’s been hyped all spring. And by the time it came out and the reviews were spectacular, I went in sort of expecting it to change my life. And of course it didn’t. It’s just an indie movie. A very, very good indie movie, but it’s not gonna change anyone’s life. It’s just a good movie. So you need to know that going in. Don’t get your hopes all the way up, but do know this is a terrific movie. I was surprised that it was 90% in Cantonese. Somehow I expected it to be like, 50/50 or 60/40. So good on them for keeping the English to a minimum and only when necessary. Awkwafina is very good as the lead and the actress who played the grandmother is amazing. It’s the kind of movie that feels like what it’s like to be around your family. Which is great. I liked also that it never really rose the stakes in any major way. It’s just a movie about people and about life. So the climax of the movie is someone running to a doctor to intercept test results. It’s low stakes. And that’s what’s great about it. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. And I’m just talking about as a movie. All that representation stuff and all that I’ll leave to everyone else. For me, just see it because it’s good. That’s what it should be about, anyway.
Fast Color — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Have you seen Midnight Special? That’s Jeff Nichols making a superhero movie. But it’s very much small scale and more about the characters than the “superhero.” This is in that vein. This is even smaller than that. This is like if your Sundance movie character also had superpowers. Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as a woman who is traveling back home after years away. She used to be an addict, and she has/had superpowers that cause her to have seizures that cause power outages. It also makes her a target to people who are looking for her. And it’s about her returning home to her mother and young daughter to try to make things right after being gone for so long. It’s very good. It’s about people, and superpowers just happen to be an element of the movie. So if you go in for any expectations of that genre, you’ll be disappointed. But if you go in expecting one of those Sundance kind of indies, you’ll find a really solid movie.
Gloria Bell — * * * (3 stars)
Interesting movie. Sebastian Lelio (who made A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience) remakes his own movie, but with Julianne Moore and John Turturro. It’s a movie about a woman in her 50s who keeps going out to clubs and looks for love. And eventually meets John Turturro, who seems like this really sweet, nice guy. And the movie’s basically a romance between the two/journey of self-discovery for Moore. It’s okay. Very indie. Like Disobedience was for me. Well made, good actors… just didn’t really care past a certain “that was fine.”
Godzilla: King of the Monsters — * * * (3 stars)
I loved the first Godzilla. The 2014 one. This new American version. I thought it was really great. Godzilla purists hated it because he was only on screen for like eight minutes. So here, they gave you just straight up monster shit. They just threw the entire kitchen fucking sink at it. Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah, and they set up for next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong. The human stories are, as they kind of were last time, pretty paper thin. But they get good actors, because if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past 50 years… actors love disaster movies. So it makes sense. Personally I want them to make good movies that also happen to be Godzilla movies. Seems like they’re interested in just Godzilla movies. Which is fine. Just… this didn’t do it for me past it just being watchable.
Good Boys — * * * (3 stars)
Decent comedy. Somewhat fresh because it’s 12 year old boys. It’s got some moments, but mostly it’s uneven. Some moments you laugh, some moments don’t work. They tried. Kinda works. Good for them. As far as studio comedies go, I didn’t hate it.
Good Sam — * * * (3 stars)
Netflix movie. Which honestly, at its outset, probably figured to have gone lower than this rating. Even when I went back to write it up, I went, “Whoa, 3 stars, really?” But now that I think about it, I was fine with it. It’s about a reporter who starts following the case of a good samaritan who left a lot of money on random people’s doorsteps. And her pursuit of the story mixes up with her romance with a hot fireman. It’s… okay, it’s not a great movie, but I was amused enough by it. I think it caught me on a good day. This is a movie that’s straddling the line between 2.5 and 3 and I gave it the benefit of the doubt. I imagine most people are not going to like this, though.
Greta — * * * (3 stars)
A thriller from Neil Jordan. Which is totally watchable. Lady befriends a younger woman and becomes friendly with her, but when she starts overstepping her bounds, the younger woman says they need to cool it. And then she becomes a psycho and stalks her and all that good stuff. It goes about how you expect it to. Honestly, I’m surprised it got to the violent (ish. It’s not crazy violent) until the last half hour or so. Figured that would happen sooner than it did. Still, Isabelle Huppert gets to play crazy, and you get Chloe Moretz and Maika Monroe. This is the epitome of a 3 star movie. Totally watchable in every way, but not something I particularly loved.
Hitsville: The Making of Motown — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Everyone loves Motown. It’s perhaps the greatest period in music ever. This is a documentary celebrating what they built. It’s more a love letter than anything, and doesn’t get into anything remotely negative or tragic, which is fine. What I love is the first hour or so, where they talk about the creative environment they built there, which is just a wonderful thing. That alone makes this doc worth seeing, because that’s the kind of environment all places should strive for.
Hobbs & Shaw — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
At this point, we know what we’re getting with these Fast and Furious movies. They’re light, dumb fun. They’re totally ridiculous and utterly implausible and complete fun all the way through. This one trades on the chemistry between The Rock and Statham, giving them a separate source of income, while also keeping The Rock away from Vin Diesel, because apparently those two hate each other. It also introduces Vanessa Kirby, who is awesome, and great in it. And Idris Elba gets to play a villain. I feel like the internet thinks he did more in this than he did. Mostly I appreciated that the crazy set pieces happened in the earlier parts of the movie and the third act was relatively restrained. And took place in Samoa, which was dope. These movies are always gonna be 3.5 stars, they’re gonna be totally ridiculous, and I’m gonna forget 90% of what happens within a month of seeing them. That’s what they are. But in terms of throwaway summer entertainment, this franchise is one of the better ones and always delivers, so I can’t talk shit.
The Hole in the Ground — * * * (3 stars)
Slow, atmospheric Irish horror. I imagine this will be for people who were into stuff like Goodnight Mommy. It’s solid. Can’t really say much more for it than that. Horror’s not my genre, and slow-paced horror almost certainly isn’t either. So for me, this was just okay.
Horrible Histories: The Movie — * * * (3 stars)
This is based on a British sketch show that I knew nothing about, but the general idea of it appeals to me. Which is basically just them taking a famous historical event and turning it into a comedy. This deals with the reign of Nero and the uprising led by Boudicca. It’s amusing. I imagine fans of the show will say the show was better. But as a movie, it’s fun. It’s got that spirit where — even if you don’t love it, it’s clearly done for the right reasons and it doesn’t have that odor of studio manipulation that most comedies nowadays do.
Hot Air — * * * (3 stars)
I always tell people you can learn more from a film that doesn’t quite work than a great film. There are, over the years, a lot of films that I will say that I liked that aren’t considered good films. And it’s because, for me, I tend to ignore the bad parts and instead focus on the stuff that works. To me, what makes a movie something I can learn from is when I go, “Oh man, they missed out on (whatever).” This, to me, is a movie like that. When you look this up, you’ll see bad reviews and bad ratings and a director who has been around for both the best and worst of Adam Sandler. It looks like something you don’t want to watch. And maybe you don’t. But I saw this and I picked through all the bad stuff and saw a core idea and some stuff that I liked. The premise is: Steve Coogan is a conservative talk show host who regularly says terrible things in the name of ratings. Suddenly into his life comes his 16-year-old niece, having to stay with him after her mother enters rehab for the (insert number here) time. This is a premise that can go a lot of different ways. Here, it’s mostly a portrait of a dude who has closed off that part of himself that relates to other people because that’s what he has to do to be successful. Coogan is strong here, even though the material he’s working with isn’t always up to his level. Taylor Russell is great as the niece, even though she’s 25 and playing 16. Neve Campbell shows up to remind us it’s a travesty she isn’t in more movies. The story isn’t always interesting and the subplots don’t always work, but there’s a core of something here that does work, and it continued to resonate with me throughout the movie. So as much as most people will immediately write this off and call it awful and focus on the way it doesn’t remotely get into the political statement or satire it could have — I think there’s something here of value, and while it’s not the greatest movie, I do think it’s actually pretty decent.
Hotel Mumbai — * * * (3 stars)
Terrorist/hostage movie set in an Indian hotel. Terrorists take it over, and we follow the staff and guests as they hide/try to get to safety. It’s decent. Armie Hammer, Dev Patel. It’s fine. Nothing special.
The Hustle — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
A female reboot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Problem is… no one remembers Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. And also they cast Anne Hathaway, who is… not loved by everyone (though I like her. Although I do prefer her doing interesting indie movies like Colossal and Rachel Getting Married over shit like this. Her mainstream screen persona is not my cup of tea. Like Reese Witherspoon. Do the interesting shit I know you like doing and stop trying to be America’s Sweetheart. Though Hathaway does have the Dee Rees movie and the Todd Haynes movie coming up, so fingers crossed). And then Rebel Wilson… who, I’m not sure when it was decided she should be a thing? She just kinda does the same thing every movie, and it’s not particularly funny? Is there a secret Rebel Wilson fan base that I don’t know about? Anyway, the movie’s bad. Let’s just leave it at that. This is bad studio filmmaking, and the kind of movie I wouldn’t be surprised to see end up Unforgivable at the end of the year.
I Am Mother — * * * (3 stars)
Netflix movie that has shades of Ex Machina and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Look at me, selling it like I’m pitching a studio executive. It’s not that good. Basically… a girl has been raised by a robot in an isolated lab underground. She is taught lessons and sees the robot as her mother. Once she reaches a certain age, she becomes curious about outside. Naturally, the robot say the outside is very bad and she can’t go there. But… you know how that goes. And everything changes when a woman (Hilary Swank) shows up, looking for help, and the girl lets her inside. I’ll leave it there. It goes to some interesting places. I will give them credit for how they ended it. On the scale of “super happy ending” and “bleakest shit ever”… it’s much more in the bleak category than I ever expected it to be. Which is awesome. It’s not the greatest movie ever but it’s definitely a solid Netflix movie that you could watch and get something out of.
Into the Ashes — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Yeesh. I mean, sure, you watch these straight to VOD movies and you’re gonna get burned. Arguably most of them are worse than I think they are, because I am predisposed to liking them more than the average person. But still, this one… not great. Too serious, and they had me on Frank Grillo being in it, and he’s just the villain who is barely on screen. That’s a Bruce Willis special, him in this movie, showing up for like, two days of work. Forget this one, and go read another review, because there’s no reason for you or anyone to ever see this movie.
The Intruder — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Low-budget horror movie, by Screen Gems and not Blumhouse. And I find, while I don’t ever give more of a shit than if it were Blumhouse, I do find that I generally dislike Screen Gems horror movies less. So there’s that. This is Dennis Quaid as a guy who sells a house to a married couple and then just sort of never leaves. And of course it’s some weird thing where he’s attached to the house for some reason, and he’s a psycho, and eventually he’s gonna try to kill them and get his house back. The logic makes zero sense. But honestly, it’s watchable. I didn’t care, but it’s watchable. This is the kind of movie I’d rather be stuck in at a theater than something like Ma. Plus we get Dennis Quaid, who I like seeing in stuff. (Shout out to Frequency, which is still a dope ass movie.)
Jacob’s Ladder — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This is just poorly made. And badly written, and not well directed, or acted, or anything really. It’s just a bad movie.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum — * * * * (4 stars)
It’s a John Wick movie. As long as they keep making them, I will keep seeing them and keep enjoying them. That motherfucker could end up in space and I’d be like, “Do a headshot through a space helmet in zero G!” I don’t fucking care. Case and point — this is the weakest of the Wick movies. The plot here is insane. Halle Berry and the dogs for like, no reason, but sure. The weird desert shit where he cuts off a finger… sure. It’s just one thing after another. But also, awesome action sequences and a more interesting universe than almost anything else out there. So honestly, keep making them. Though I will say… kinda thought this movie would end with what the next movie is gonna be. I mean, as soon as you saw the end of the second one, the next obvious step was what they set up to happen in 4. This feels like John Wick 2.5 in a trilogy. But honestly, don’t care. That knife fight in the antiques shop was awesome and him riding through the city on a horse… just keep doing shit like that and I’ll keep watching.
Junglee — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
That’s right, I watched a Bollywood movie. It’s because Chuck Russell directed it. He’s on my Directors List, and I watch things from directors on my Directors List. (He directed The Mask and Eraser, by the way. And The Scorpion King. So he’s all over my childhood.) This is a weird movie about a man and his elephant friend. It’s not great. But just as Hollywood movies don’t make much sense in India, Bollywood movies don’t make much sense here. It’s a culture thing. Maybe one day I will become properly educated and get into Bollywood movies, but I’ve yet to get there. (Also, pretty sure this is not the top tier of what Bollywood has to offer. So that might also have something to do with it.)
The Kid — * * * (3 stars)
Vincent D’Onofrio directed a movie about Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and basically got his Magnificent Seven cast to be in it. Chris Pratt shows up, Ethan Hawke plays Garrett, and D’Onofrio himself is in there. Dane DeHaan plays Billy. It’s fine. Nothing overly special, but I’ll always watch a western. Especially with all those people in it.
Killers Anonymous — * * * (3 stars)
Guessing this was based on a graphic novel, because it feels that way. It’s about a support group for hitmen. Which is an interesting idea, if a tough premise to pull off for anything longer than a 15 minute short. It starts with… it starts with what is essentially someone trying to make a Quentin Tarantino ripoff. A whole elaborate opening with Gary Oldman and Jessica Alba, and you’re not quite sure just what the point of it all is, even though it sort of ties in later, but not well enough for you to care. Then we get to another meeting, and pretty soon it becomes a Hitchcock kind of movie. Basically, “We’re all in this room, this meeting was called right after someone tried to kill a politician and we don’t know who called it, so clearly someone’s not telling the truth.” Which is a similar set up to The Standoff at Sparrow Creek, which is a far superior film to this. And it just spirals from there. Twist after twist after twist, so little of it makes sense or matters. But it’s watchable. This is the kind of movie that I would be okay with more than others, because I grew up on this shit. Still… it’s not a great movie. Gary Oldman is literally in a different movie from everyone else. He shot his stuff apart from everyone but Jessica Alba. Every scene with him has him sitting on a rooftop with binoculars, allegedly watching everyone else. It’s… I’m hating this new trend of paying actors for low budget movies and shooting them out on different schedules. It’s so obvious and looks so bad and never makes the movie any better. But yeah, I know some people will come across this because of the cast and think to watch it.
The Kitchen — * * * (3 stars)
This is basically shitty Widows. Okay, it’s not that shitty, but honestly, just watch Widows instead. This is based on comics, and it shows. It’s got a lot of very comic book-style scenes and moments. It’s not grounded in any reality whatsoever. Honestly, it was better suited as a video game than a movie. But it’s watchable. Not great, but decent. Probably too short, too. I think they edited it down to make it as commercial as possible. And… that didn’t really work. They promoted the hell out of this, but it didn’t really hit a through line with any audience. Oh well. This is the kind of movie that every year has — it’s fine, it’s watchable, some people might like it, but mostly it’s just kind of there.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This is a really strong movie. It’s based on the main actor and his family history. The premise is — a guy grew up in a really nice house in San Francisco, which his grandfather says he built from scratch in the 40s. He and his father were thrown out of it years earlier because they weren’t able to make the payments on it. And he’s always wanted to go back. He thinks it’s his birthright. He goes there every week to garden and paint and fix things up, even though other people live there. And the movie is about him trying to get back to this house, while also living in the changing landscape of a city that’s becoming gentrified, and price out all the people who, in a way, helped make it what it is. It’s really well done and one of those movies that should be seen by everyone, even if I don’t think everyone will necessarily love it. I’m not sure I loved it, but I really liked it and I think it is something people should see, because it has a lot to say and has a really nice visual language to it.
The Last Summer — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Oh boy. This wasn’t good. Netflix ensemble movie about teen romance. And man, do I hate movies that treat high school problems as the biggest issues in the world. There’s a subplot that hinges on this fact: a boy is dating a girl. She has a single mother. He finds out his (married) father is having an affair with the single mother. He really likes the girl so he struggles with telling her. Plus, it’s his father and that causes some issues with his own family. And then the girl finds out just before he can tell her and is furious with him. But it’s one of those things where you’re watching and you go, “This is fucking stupid.” Because no one is a real person and for once considers the logic of the situation. They’re just acting like someone would act in a bad screenplay. And that, to me, is a microcosm of this entire movie. This is the bad side of the Netflix Original.
Life Like — * * * (3 stars)
Saw this because it starred Addison Timlin, who I’ve always really liked seeing in stuff and who always seems to choose really interesting subject matter. This one wasn’t really for me. It’s one of those “married couple gets a (insert title here) robot to work for them and then it starts to unveil cracks in the marriage” movies. It’s kinda boring for most of it, and doesn’t really go into any interesting territory. It’s watchable, but was just kinda meh for me.
Light of My Life — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Casey Affleck wrote and directed this, which is probably why they dumped this on VOD. People seem to react pretty violently when his name comes up. I’m always a proponent of keeping the work separate from everything else, so my review won’t mention any of that other stuff. Feel however you want about it, and if it means you never see this, then you never see it. I’m not here to adjudicate what you watch or don’t. I’m just here to recommend stuff I think is worth seeing. And this, very much so, is a movie worth seeing. I’ll admit the fact that his name is on it and the premise begins with “In a world without women…” is a tough sell and almost kind of laughable. But it’s post-apocalyptic, and there are very few people in the film, and those movies are always immediately more interesting to me than others. This is kinda like The Road meets Bird Box. More so The Road. It’s a world where a plague has wiped out most of the population, but more so women than men. He travels around with his daughter, who he has to hide and pretend is his son so that others don’t… well, obviously when there are only so many people left, women become a… priority. So he’s trying to shield her from that. But the movie doesn’t go the way you think it’s gonna. It never really devolves into the kind of scenes you’d expect until the climax, and even only then because it has to. Give this movie ten minutes. You’ll either be totally in after ten minutes, as I was, or you’ll go, “What is this nonsense?” But either way, you will know pretty early on if this is for you. I loved that it took a different route and was mainly focused on scenes between him and the girl (like Leave No Trace was, though without that movie’s emotional thrust. This one was much more a simple ‘survival’ kind of story). Affleck gives a great performance and Anna Pniowsky is great alongside him. I really liked this movie. This kind of thing is always gonna be more up my alley than most people’s, but it’s different than the other stuff you normally get, which is why I liked it so much.
The Lion King — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Ah, yes, the Uncanny Valley of the Mauls, where everything the light touches looks incredibly realistic but also incredibly creepy because real animals can’t talk. It looks stunning, admittedly. But what have we gotten out of this except the knowledge that computer graphics are amazing and they can create just about anything digitally now? I listened to a DGA podcast with Favreau and it was amazing because he talked about how they created every single thing in the movie (save the opening shot) from scratch. And they had this crazy VR meeting space where they could all just kind of go in there and do things. It sounds incredible. But also, it tells you that the purpose of the money (aside from money) was just to do something digitally cool. No one cared about the story. Because it’s The Lion King. It’s the greatest movie Disney’s ever made. It’s a perfect entity. But also… no point in remaking it. So they literally took the movie and shot it, word for word. Almost more so than every other one they’ve made. They added like one or two other random scenes to give Beyoncé something to do, but otherwise it’s just kind of the same movie, but lesser. It’s stunning to look at, but otherwise does anyone care? I’m glad it got bad reviews, because that’s the first start to dismantling these things. But at this point, we’re just kind of in the age of nostalgia, and all people want to do is look back on old stuff.
Little — * * * (3 stars)
This is the kind of movie I want to support so much. It’s a reverse Big, with a mostly black cast, written and directed by a woman, and the idea for the movie was conceived by its 13-year-old star. Everything about that is incredible. The movie itself — just kind of okay. But still. I’d rather okay movies with that kind of cast/behind the camera pedigree than some other bullshit Tribeca movie by some pretentious white dude who came from Tisch. Anyway, it’s reverse Big. Overbearing boss who lost sight of who she is gets magically turned into the 13-year-old version of herself, and her dutiful assistant takes over for her while she has to brave middle-school again. The cast is game. Marsai Martin, who stars and came up with the idea, is great. Regina Hall is a bit over-the-top in her portions, but that’s to be expected. This is just the kind of movie that needs to be championed. I’m happy it exists.
Long Shot — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This was so much better than I ever could have expected it to be. It’s so good that I actually got mad when it did things that I would have expected it to before I started watching it. Like Seth Rogen falling down the stairs or ejaculating on his own face. That shit actually feels out of place here because the rest of the movie is so fucking good. Rogen plays a journalist trying to be a legitimate journalist in the age of online clickbait, and Charlize Theron plays the Secretary of State and likely eventual President. She used to babysit him and now they reconnect as adults and start a relationship when he becomes her speechwriter. It’s a really sweet movie and the romance is played really well and not at all how you’d expect. I was such a fan of how they pulled this off without hitting almost any of the usual notes a movie like this would hit. Which is why, as I said, those broad comedy moments (oh yeah, and the moment at the beginning when he falls out a window) feel so out of place and made me mad because they detracted from a far better movie around them. Though I will say — Jonathan Levine has directed seven movies now. I have not seen his first film, which is a horror movie with Amber Heard. But since then — The Wackness was good. 50/50 was great. Warm Bodies was good. The Night Before is perhaps the single most underrated comedy of the past ten years and is fucking hilarious. This movie is gonna become a classic over time and I cannot understand why people have not figure out how great it is yet. And then he made Snatched, which is offensively bad. But that can be allowed. Because he bounced back with this, which is fantastic. Dude makes good movies. Or at the very least, interesting movies. But back to this movie — definitely worth seeing and one of the better movies of 2019.
Luce — * * * ( 3 stars)
This is like Carnage, but with a black person. Okay, maybe that’s simplistic and just going for the joke. But… also kinda. It’s about a boy who was adopted from Eritrea (and was a child soldier there) who is now a star student and star athlete and gonna go on to do great things. Only his teacher reads something he wrote in a paper and starts to wonder about him. Basically, the paper was to write from the perspective of a historical figure, and he wrote about a guy whose philosophy was that violence was sometimes the best way to further your cause. She’s suspicious, and then searches his locker and finds fireworks, and then has a talk with his mother. And the whole thing turns into a big situation… and no one quite knows the truth. And the problem is, the movie refuses to answer. And it’s not exactly Doubt, you know? It doesn’t seem to really matter, and you’re never quite sure what it’s trying to say. But it’s watchable, and it’s got Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as the parents and Octavia Spencer as the teacher. Good people, so-so result.
Ma — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
The biggest question I have about this movie is the fact that it was directed by Tate Taylor. In case you don’t know that name, he directed The Help. Then he directed Get On Up, the James Brown biopic. Then he directed Girl on a Train. Are any of those great movies? No. But they’re all watchable and have big stars in them. Then he goes and directs a Blumhouse movie. Which is just weird as hell. You’d think it’s because no one wants to give him big movies anymore, but his next movie’s got a cool cast. And he’s got a Jessica Chastain action movie coming up. So I guess it’s just that he wants to direct all different genres. Which is admirable. Anyway, this is one of the most absurd premises you’ve ever heard: random creepy woman befriends high schoolers and says, “I’ll buy you alcohol. And you can party at my house. Oh, and I’m gonna start hanging out with you and getting involved in your personal lives.” And the kids are just kind of okay with it. And then she turns out to be a psycho. Who knew? These movies just aren’t for me. Especially when it’s so obvious where the movie’s going, does nothing remotely surprising and just kind of feels generic and rote the whole time. So I got nothing out of this. Maybe others did. So I’ll leave it to those people.
Malibu Rescue — * * (2 stars)
Holy SHIT. One of the big downsides of the Netflix model is that shit like this can make it on. This is basically a Nickelodeon original movie they put out on Netflix. This is unwatchable. It’s a lifeguard comedy, so you basically know 90% of the story even before it starts. And that story, in case you didn’t already know, is bad. This is one of the most objectively atrocious things I’ve seen this year. Please forget this ever exists as soon as humanly possible.
Men in Black International — * * * (3 stars)
I mean… did we think this had any chance of being good? I mean, really good. At most you were gonna go, “It wasn’t great, but Hemsworth and Thompson were awesome together.” But this movie couldn’t even give us that. Holy shit. What was this movie? It had a plot? We had to make sense of shit? The original Men in Black — did you know it’s only 98 minutes long? They accomplish everything they accomplished in that movie in just over an hour and a half. Think about that — the entire opening with Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith chasing the alien, the entire bit of him being tested, becoming an agent, going out with Tommy Lee Jones and learning the ropes, the entire Vincent D’Onofrio subplot, the bit in the morgue, Linda Fiorentino… it’s all 98 minutes. And I haven’t watched that movie in years. And I still remember what feels like more than 98 minutes worth of it. This movie is just shy of two hours long. And I bet you won’t remember a goddamn frame of it within two weeks of seeing it. It’s that forgettable. There’s no chemistry between the leads because Hemsworth is (by design, which is even worse) playing a smug idiot who isn’t good at his job, and Thompson doesn’t even get to have any fun whatsoever. Also, show of hands, who could have sworn Liam Neeson was in the last Men in Black movie? Because I could have. It just feels like something he’d have shown up in for like a second. “Oh, this is the head of our Europe branch.” But yeah… just a really bad movie on a lot of levels. Possibly even Unforgivable. Because they had a cool idea. Branch out Men in Black, cast two really awesome people who we’ve already seen play well off of each other. And then they just created a story that completely cut the legs out from under this movie, spent waaay more than they should have on it (I don’t know what the budget is, but I guarantee all-in they spent $200 million on this, including marketing) and now we’re left with nothing of value whatsoever.
Midsommar — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Okay. Few things to get out of the way first. Hereditary — it’s a comedy. I will die on this hill and the rest of you are wrong. Watch it again. It’s a comedy. So every person who came out of this movie going, “It was actually really funny” — yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for a year. Second — Hereditary, solid movie… completely falls apart in the third act. And also overrated by everyone, but that’s to be expected. Okay, cool? So now we can get into Midsommar. The quick review of this is — it’s not as funny as Hereditary, but it’s more deliberately funny. It’s also, like Hereditary, a lot of good ideas well made that’s got some not great moments along the way. This one meanders a lot in the middle. It’s almost two and a half hours. He went full on ‘I’ve got final cut’ on this one. And each of his films seems to have one absolutely awful but incredible sequence. For Hereditary, it’s the car scene like 40 minutes in. For this, it starts with that sequence. That opening is amazing. You start from just the most fucked up, dark, dramatic place possible. Then we deal with that fallout for a while. Florence Pugh is great and has a lot of hard emotional lifting to do in those early scenes. Jack Reynor is great as the completely unsupportive and useless boyfriend. Then they go to Sweden and there’s just like, an hour of weird, Swedish shit. Then the movie just kind of decides, “Well, I guess we should start killing people now,” so it starts killing people. But you kinda don’t want it to and it’s kind of going through the motions of doing so. It’s very strange. It’s not really hiding where it’s going and almost does it only because it has to. And then it builds to the ending, which you can see coming from miles away, but it’s all so well made that you’re just kind of fine with it all. I think the lens through which to view this movie is, as its director said, as a breakup movie. If you watch it as that and not as a horror movie, you understand what’s going on. Not that the movie doesn’t make it painfully obvious along the way with those tableaus behind everyone. I thought it was interesting the first time I saw it in an early scene, but then in the scene like, right after it, when they’re arguing and there’s that painting behind them of the creature in the sea, and they switch spots based on who has the upper hand in the argument… I rolled my fucking eyes. And it kind of went on like that throughout the movie. They really spelled out the plot in front of you, which felt like a slap in the face, since we already knew that without having to be told. There were some moments I really liked. Just stuff I haven’t really seen in movies like this. The scene where she comes in and her and Reynor’s reflections are in the TV for the entire scene (which is like three or four minutes), is great. I loved that he did a lot of long takes. And I liked the moment near the end (not to spoil anything), where one person is drugged and can’t move. And someone comes in and closes their eyes one by one, so when one gets closed, half the frame goes dark and then the other one goes down and the screen goes black. And then it stays black until they open them back up again, one at a time. I thought that was nice. But also… kind of film student masturbatory stuff. It’s a mixed bag. Which is generally how I feel about this guy’s films. A lot of great stuff, and a lot of, “Ehh, I don’t know…” stuff. But it’s solid. He’s making the movies he wants to make and he’s doing something different with a genre that is beyond stale with jump scares and demonic possessions. The Wicker Man wasn’t about anything in particular. It was just a horror movie. This is actually about something. Which I liked. Plus, gorgeous cinematography and long takes… I’m a fan of his movies, even if I don’t really need to rewatch them a bunch. I think the good far outweighs the bad. And also, this is the only movie of 2019 that features someone running around naked with blood on their dick. But admittedly, Frozen 2 still has to come out.
The Mountain — * * * (3 stars)
So Rick Alverson directed this movie from a few years ago called Entertainment. It starts Gregg Turkington, making use of his Neil Hamburger persona. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. And it’s this weird, surreal, very alternative kind of comedy that’s not really trying to be funny but is. It goes dark into the psyche of a comedian and it all just kind of works with this insane persona of the Hamburger character. So when they announced this movie, I was so fucking in. It has Jeff Goldblum and brings back Tye Sheridan. But then, as I was watching it, I went, “Oh… it’s just because of that character that it worked for me.” Because this one didn’t click for me. Alverson is perfecting a style, that’s for sure. But the story and everything just didn’t gel as much as the last movie did. And I think it’s because you had that character to contrast with the style itself. This is about a kid who ends up working for a man trying to perfect lobotomies. That’s the movie. It’s very slow, and it’s very weird. And it’ll take a certain person to really connect with it. His last one was like that too, but that one managed to hit me in the right spot. This one missed. Shit happens.
Murder Mystery — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Yeesh. First off… Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston Netflix movie. So yeah, you knew this was coming. That said… is it Unforgivable? No. No it is not. BECAUSE… this is a script that’s been around for over a decade. James Vanderbilt (who wrote Inside Man) wrote the script, and like eight years ago Charlize Theron was attached to star in it. So really, what happened is, a script that would have made a decent and forgettable movie six years ago floated around long enough and was turned down by enough people that it became an Adam Sandler Netflix movie. So even though they took everything remotely interesting out of it, it’s still kind of coherent enough to not despise it. Mostly I just didn’t care. There’s no tone to it. It’s not funny, there’s no action… I’m not really sure what it was. It’s kind of just everyone going through the motions. The plot is about a couple who go on a European vacation, only to get involved with murder and intrigue in a wealthy family. Ehh. Doesn’t work. But it’s not immediate Unforgivable like almost every Sandler movie seems to be nowadays. So that’s, a step up, I guess?
The Mustang — * * * (3 stars)
Interesting little movie. Convicts are given a chance to train horses for a show during which they will be sold. It’s part of their rehabilitation process. Each convict is given a horse, and they’re meant to take care of it and prepare for the show. And that’s the movie. We follow one convict, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, as he cares for his horse and develops a bond with it. It’s… fine. Doesn’t do anything special, but it’s watchable and it takes a different angle than you’d expect out of a movie. So that makes it immediately more interesting to me than a fair amount of stuff that comes out.
My Days of Mercy — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Not for me. Ellen Page and Kate Mara as two people who start a relationship even though both are on the opposite side of an issue. Basically, a dude is on death row, and one side is the dude’s family protesting for him to not be executed because it’s inhumane, and the other side is from the victim, who says he needs to die. And, like woke Romeo and Juliet, they find each other. Definitely not for me.
Nightmare Cinema — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Watched it because it was part of my Directors List. Joe Dante did a bit in it. As did David Slade, now that I think about it. It’s an anthology film about people going into an abandoned movie theater and watching scary movies based sort of around their own shit, and then the mysterious projectionist (played, of course, by Mickey Rourke. Because why wouldn’t he be) kills them. It’s not good. At all. Not even sure it’s watchable. Mostly I had fun watching Mickey Rourke clearly working like two days and not having any lines because I’m sure getting him to say anything was a chore. That’s the thing that gets me through movies like this now. Thinking about what they had to do to get that performance out of actors who clearly are doing this for a paycheck and nothing else.
Ode to Joy — * * * (3 stars)
Interesting movie. It’s based on some sort of podcast episode, about a guy who has a neurological condition where strong feelings, specifically that of joy, cause him to pass out. And, it’s a rom com. He meets a woman and starts falling in love, even though the more happy he gets, the more likely he is to pass out at any given moment. It’s not the greatest movie ever, but Martin Freeman plays the guy and he does a good job with it. Morena Baccarin plays the love interest, and she’s one step below manic pixie dream girl, but does a good job with it. Jake Lacy plays his brother/caretaker, and Melissa Rauch plays Baccarin’s coworker. She actually steals a bunch of scenes, and I think, in a better movie, would get more proper notices for the work she put into this. The movie is… it’s one of those movies that doesn’t quite work, but the casting is there, and there are a few things that work. There’s that famous Howard Hawks quote where he said a good movie is “three good scenes and no bad scenes.” This is a movie that has maybe one bad scene, but only maybe one good scene. The rest are just neutral, and it leaves you with a mostly neutral movie. Though I see kernels of good ideas and good things in it. So I’m fine with it, but I’m not sure it’s the type of movie that most people would get much out of and can’t recommend it all that much.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)
It’s Quentin, man. We all know the quality of movie he puts out. I was very worried about this movie from the moment they announced it. I thought it was gonna be largely about Manson and I got worried after the last one that he was running out of original stories and was just gonna cannibalize himself and start to lose it. I remained trepidatious about it leading up to its release, even though by a certain point I knew he was gonna deliver the goods, even if I couldn’t see just how. So I went to see this the way I think he’d want us to see it — in 70mm, at one of the locations shown in the film. And I really didn’t know just what the story was gonna be. And after seeing it… yeah, that about all makes sense. I got worried after the first twenty minutes that this was just Quentin’s jerkoff “look at all the weird movie references” sessions, but he dispensed with that pretty early on. And I liked the first bit but wasn’t totally in on it, until the back to back scenes of DiCaprio and the little girl and Pitt and Bruce Lee. Those two scenes were perfect. And that’s the beauty of Quentin. Sooner or later, he’s gonna give you a sequence that’s so amazingly perfect that you forget about all your other little quibbles. And honestly, all my quibbles with him are mostly that I can now see behind the curtain a little bit and am catching the fact that he just wants to reference shit he’s seen and likes. Once I got over that and got fully invested in the characters he gave us, I let all that go. (But yes, he is self-referencing at this point, and references Inglourious Basterds both ten minutes in and at the end. Though, to his credit, the self-referencing actually turned into its own easter egg/end credits scene, which I think is both wonderfully self-aware and also kinda perfect.) DiCaprio gets the bigger character and the broader canvas to work off, and he’s really good. I like that he worked in a sort of half-stutter to the character that comes out when he gets stressed. That was awesome. And Pitt — he’s so fucking good. Everything he does in this movie is just perfect. Quentin’s movies are always… for me, when I see a new one, my response is always, “I gotta see it again.” And I always want to rate it lower than all the other ones of his I’ve seen. But it’s only because I’ve spent more time with the rest of them and have been able to see them a bunch. Hateful Eight — I’d read the script, I saw the movie. I thought it was really good, but I wasn’t as immediately in love with it as I was with his previous films (save Grindhouse, which is a different experience and a different thing). But then, within two months, I saw it again in theaters and watched it like three other times. That’s kind of how I see this one going. I’ve talked about this a bunch with people and I’m meaning to see it again one of these weeks. And I’ll start to get my real feelings on this out over time. But really, I loved it. I love that it’s got its own funky pace. I love that he was able to shut down Hollywood Boulevard (I remember driving down it the night before they shot and going, “What the fuck?” because I didn’t know they were doing it) and make it look like it did in the 60s. I love that he got to have three minute takes of Brad Pitt driving just because there are no special effects. I love that there’s a fifteen minute sequence in the movie that’s just them filming a TV show. I love so much about this movie. And I’m also interested in seeing the growth of Quentin, because… I don’t think earlier Quentin would have paid off that flamethrower. Just saying.
The Operative — * * * (3 stars)
Decent thriller. Every year has at least three baseline 3-star thrillers. Here, Diane Kruger plays a spy in the Middle East who goes rogue. So we follow her story from when she first started to now, as her handler Martin Freeman tries to bring her in and figure out what the hell is going on. It’s actually watchable, and Kruger does a good job with it. But it’s a Middle east thriller, and I can never be that invested in those. Fortunately this is paced as a drama and not as an action movie, so maybe that’s why I was less dismissive of it as I might have been, but it’s one of those movies you watch, you go, “Sure,” and maybe have one nice thing to say about it, and then you move on, and within a year, you’ve forgotten all about it.
Ophelia — * * * (3 stars)
Great concept. Take Hamlet and tell it from the perspective of Ophelia. And that’s cool. Daisy Ridley plays Ophelia, Naomi Watts plays Gertrude and Clive Owen plays Claudius. But… it’s Shakespeare. Hard to really make it interesting. And it feels overly “woke.” So it takes a deliberately feminist angle. Which is fine. But it tips its hat too much and makes it too obvious with some of the dialogue. Lighten up that hand a bit, you know? But it’s fine. Not sure that’s the version of the story I’d have expected to get, but it’s decent enough. I’ll still take Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead over this any day.
Otherhood — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Yees. Very bad Netflix movie. Three mothers decide to surprise their sons on Mother’s Day, and then it’s just kind of about them being in their sons’ lives. Not really sure what the point is, doesn’t really have anything of interest in it, and it’s just a bad movie. So yeah. I was generous with the 2.5 stars. At this point you should watch almost anything else on Netflix over this.
The Peanut Butter Falcon — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This movie made me happy. It’s so pleasant. It’s very short, too. Just under 100 minutes. It never overstays its welcome or gets into anything too complicated. It stars an actual man with Down’s Syndrome, and the movie is largely built around him. They made it around his desire to be an actor but turned it into professional wrestler. It’s really nice, though. They work in Shia LaBeouf as a dude on the run from some dangerous people, and it’s a buddy road trip movie. Doesn’t add too many extraneous scenes, and it gets the most out of its stars in a good way. It’s just a feel-good movie. Not so good that it’s the kind of movie I think you need to see immediately because it’ll change your life, but it’s really life-affirming and it’ll make you smile. That’s something everyone should see, especially over a lot of the other garbage that has come out this summer and made tens and hundreds of millions of dollars more than this has.
The Perfection — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This is the perfect Netflix movie, and one of the absolute best they’ve put out. The first 40 minutes of this movie are perfect. It loses a bit of steam after that and I’m not totally sure how I feel about the third act. But it’s committed to the story it wants to tell so ultimately I don’t have a problem with it. And honestly, those first 40 minutes… holy shit. So, to start, it’s directed by Richard Shepherd, who did The Matador, The Hunting Party and Dom Hemingway, all really strong movies that are all hidden gems. This also seems destined to be the same. It starts Allison Williams as a child prodigy cellist who left her studies to care for her sick mother. Now, ten years later, her mother has died, and she’s come back to see the girl who took her place, now a world-class cellist, and her former teacher. And honestly, that’s all you should ever know about this movie. That’s the first ten minutes, and trust me, you just wanna go along for the ride from there. To say any more would be to ruin all the fun. Yes, there are twists, yes, it seems like it’s going where you think it might… but turst me when I say, you have no fucking idea what it’s gonna do or where it’s going. It’s not even the type of movie where you’re sitting there trying to guess what’s really going on, because it’s just too interesting for that. Even if you do guess, it doesn’t matter, because the movie’s about to do something else. You need to see this movie right away. It’s great. It’s so entertaining and really needs to be seen by everyone.
Point Blank — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Another Frank Grillo Netflix action movie. This one also stars Anthony Mackie. Mackie plays a nurse who gets an unconscious Grillo as a patient. Grillo, as we see in the opening scene of the movie, came from a shootout at the home of the recently murdered DA and was hit by a car during his escape. Grillo’s brother, needing to get him back, kidnaps Mackie’s pregnant wife and forces him to get Grillo out of the hospital to get his wife back. And we find out that there’s some bigger stuff going on, namely a lot of dirty cops and all sorts of stuff. So you have Grillo and Mackie on the run for most of the movie, and it’s just fun. Not as good as Wheelman, but definitely the kind of movie that’s good for a Saturday afternoon when you just want something entertaining.
The Poison Rose — * * * (3 stars)
Weird little neo noir with John Travolta, Morgan Freeman and Brendan Fraser. I know, right? Travolta plays a former Texas star athlete who is now a drunk P.I. He goes back to his former hometown to investigate a missing person, and then gets involved in all this shady stuff going on. Morgan Freeman plays the dude who basically owns the town, and Brendan Fraser is a shady doctor. It’s… not a great movie. But they’re all cool, so it’s interesting to watch them. They got this a 3 instead of a 2.5. But mostly I didn’t care and no one else who watches it will either.
Poms — * * (2 stars)
Oh my god, this was awful. Like, offensively bad. What WAS this? And when I saw offensively bad, I don’t just mean to me. I mean to the actresses involved. Diane Keaton was in ANNIE HALL. What the fuck is this? Older women start a cheerleading squad? What? Is this what things have come to? Please don’t ever subject yourself to this movie. This might have to be Unforgivable on principle, it’s that bad.
The Professor — * * * (3 stars)
This used to be called Richard Says Goodbye, and was directed by the guy who made Katie Says Goodbye. Though I think this one ended up weirdly coming out first. At least theatrically. That was about a small town waitress sort of looking for more. This is about a professor who finds out he’s dying. I guess they were meant to be spiritual cousins. I think they did better renaming this, even if it is a more generic title. The movie itself is just okay. It’s watchable, but not much more. The real accomplishment of this is that it reminds people that Johnny Depp is a great and committed actor. His performance is the thing worth watching in this movie. He’s really good in it. He went off into blockbuster land for a while, as actors tend to do, and now that he’s back on the ground, he’s back to choosing interesting material and showing everyone how great of an actor he’s always been.
The Public — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Major surprise for me. The only reason I really knew what it was is because Emilio Estevez is on my Directors List. Because yes, he directs movies. He’s directed six movies. The one everyone sort of knows is Bobby, but he has been directing movies for almost thirty years now. This one is… and know it’s a throwback movie to the 90s. It’s got that vibe and tone, and that’s part of what I liked about it. He plays a librarian who works in the Cincinnati Public Library. And the way libraries work now is that they’re basically just homeless shelters throughout the day. Most cities know this, and that’s sort of the deal. Only here, it’s the dead of winter, and it’s so cold out that homeless people are freezing the death on the streets because the city is inadequately capable of sheltering all of them at night. So one night, the homeless people who normally inhabit the library decide they’ve had enough. They’re not leaving when the library closes. And it turns from a situation into a media event. It’s a really good fucking movie. It’s just really engaging and one of those movies you’d find on cable and just keep watching whenever it was on. Jeffrey Wright, Michael K. Williams, Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin are all in it. I really liked this movie, and it’s definitely one of my favorite hidden gems of this year.
The Red Sea Diving Resort — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Fun Netflix movie. It’s about a group of Mossad agents trying to get Ethiopian Jews out of a genocide by starting a fake hotel (which turns into a real hotel) as a front. Chris Evans stars, along with Haley Bennett, Alessandro Nivola, Greg Kinnear, Ben Kingsley and Michael K. Williams. It’s a lot of fun. A throwback kind of movie. Not amazing, but fun, and engaging. Netflix feels like the right kind of place for it. Definitely a more solid movie than I was expecting. Normally movies like this are watchable but not all that great. They’re just too serious and not engaging. This one had a fun element to it, and kept you interested throughout, even with all the political stuff. I liked it.
ReMastered: The Lion’s Share — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
The final episode in the ReMastered series, and I still cannot recommend them all highly enough. For those who didn’t read the last batch of reviews, the series is on Netflix and it’s six one hour (or so. Some go longer) documentaries about interesting music stories. One is about Johnny Cash visiting Nixon in the White House during the Vietnam protests. One is about the assassination attempt on Bob Marley and his eventual return to Jamaica. One is about the murder of Jam Master Jay. One is about the Irish show band that got murdered during the “Troubles.” One is about the legend of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the Devil. One is about the mysterious murder of Sam Cooke. And one is about the assassination of Victor Jara. They’re all great. This one is about the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and how its origins are actually in an African song from the 30s, but somehow the copyright mysteriously went to the label who wrote the song in the 60s and how the original singer’s family has gotten none of their rightful royalties. I cannot recommend this series highly enough.
Rim of the World — * * * (3 stars)
What a bad title, that could also be the title of softcore porn and you wouldn’t know the difference. This is directed by McG, his second straight to Netflix movie, after The Babysitter, which was, kinda like this is, mostly inconsequential, but fun in a genre way that’s mainly aimed toward 12-18 year-olds. This is about a bunch of kids who go to summer camp two hours outside of Los Angeles, and while they’re there, aliens invade. And it just so happens that they get a hold of the one thing that could potentially stop the aliens. So now they have to (mainly without adult supervision) get to JPL in Pasadena before the world ends. It’s dumb, but it’s got moments. I like that it does the World War Z thing of introducing people and then immediately murdering them within minutes, forcing the kids to figure shit out on their own. Some of it is cringeworthy, like the Chinese girl who is silent for half the movie but then when she speaks randomly says the speech from Gladiator. Could have maybe been funny, but also why? There’s a lot of stuff like that. But also, there are some thing that actually made me go, “Oh wow.” Like, they get picked up by soldiers (who you know are gonna die within seconds), and they do this single-shot out the front window of a bus that’s sort of video game cut scene-y, where you see the cars in front explode and people get shot. It’s just a cool looking shot that made me keep my brain turned on. Which is nice. But overall, it’s really just a movie for kids. It’s the kind of thing where, it’s elevated generic. Not elevated genre. Elevated generic. It’s a generic movie that is elevated because McG, for better or worse, does know how to make decently entertaining movies at a much higher budget range than this. So what you have is a movie that, with a nobody director, would be utterly generic and not even worth seeing. Here, you have something that occasionally has some cool stuff with the same amount of bad stuff you’d expect. It’s totally fine, and honestly I’ll take this over a surprising amount of other things that came out this year.
Rocketman — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This being released six months after Bohemian Rhapsody, it was going to draw comparisons. So let’s begin with — it’s not as good as that is. But they’re different movies. Bohemian Rhapsody is a biopic with music. This is a jukebox musical. It’s just different sides to the same coin. This movie is destined to be a Broadway musical. They take Elton John’s life and story and build the songs into it. They’re all completely out of order, and they all fit in to whatever spot makes the most sense. Quick rundown of thoughts on it: weird that no song is ever really played in full. All songs feel like they’re about a minute to two minutes and it never feels like you get the whole thing. I thought I was gonna be taken out of it by the fact that Taron Egerton is singing all the songs himself and doesn’t really sound like Elton John. But you just kind of go with it before too long and don’t notice it. I really liked the opening shot, him bursting in with the costume and walking stridently up the hallway just to reveal that it’s rehab. That was a nice touch. Otherwise… it felt weird the way they crammed certain songs in certain situations. The angry ‘Benny and the Jets’ felt wrong, and I don’t know why they included ‘Pinball Wizard’. I mean, it fits with the point of the montage, but it’s not his song! But I will say, the way they incorporated fantasy into the musical numbers is nice. ‘Crocodile Rock’ at the Troubadour was great, and ‘Rocketman’ of course was always going to be good. And ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’ was great as well. This is a solid movie that is kept together by a strong Taron Egerton performance but otherwise hindered by some weak writing at times and some so-so story choices. But it’s fun, and it’s honestly better than it had a lot of business ever being. So let’s just be grateful that we got a solid biopic and not some embarrassing mess, like some end up being.
Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I can’t believe they gave us more Rocko’s Modern Life. This randomly dropped on Netflix three weeks ago and I’m pretty sure almost no one even knows it. It’s an interesting story, too. It’s basically an hour special (45 minutes, but I think they’re including supposed commercials) that shows Rocko existing in the modern day. He and Heffer and Filburt get stuck in space for 25 years and then show up back home in 2019. And a lot of it is commentary on current society, with people caring about new apps and games and having their heads down in technology instead of interacting with the real world. But then it gets into — Rocko’s favorite show, The Fatheads, was cancelled while he was in space, and he wants more. So he hatches a scheme to get a new TV special made to make his life happy (I’m guessing that’s based on clamoring from people for more of this show as well). And to do that, they have to find the show’s creator, Ralph Bighead (Mr. Bighead’s estranged son) and get him to agree to do it. And that’s where the special gets interesting. Because Ralph is now Rachel. Which is a lot more progressive than you’d expect from a show like this. As is the eventual climax of the short, which straight up makes fun of the current nostalgia culture and how you can pretty much never win when making or remaking anything people liked. In all, it’s the kind of thing where, if they were gonna bring these people back, they found a really nice avenue with which to do it. They really had something to say with it, while also bringing back little things for fans of the show to remember. It would be like if Disney did a remake of one of their movies but straight up put in a message about banning guns and anti-fascism and talking about social inequality and the inherent classism and sexism in the foundation of the country. You just wouldn’t expect it, and for me, I’d respect the shit out of it regardless of the product. Which is how this ends up not falling into the trap that the special is making fun of in its last ten minutes.
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese — * * * * (4 stars)
Awesome Netflix documentary about the Bob Dylan tour. Which, in the 70s, was intended as a retirement/farewell tour… and is still going. Which is very Bob Dylan. The documentary does something interesting, which is, it starts off very factual, and then slowly starts slipping in fake stuff and bringing in people who just are making shit up. But it’s all played as fact. They introduce a German director guy who was allegedly filming the whole thing… totally fictional character. Then Sharon Stone shows up as someone who allegedly was there on the tour for a bit… totally false. They even go so far as to bring in… you know the Altman miniseries, Tanner ’88? They bring in the dude who played Tanner, playing Tanner and pretending like it all happened. Which is a very Dylan thing to do. Just fill the truth in with random untruths just to keep an air of mystery and be amused by the whole thing. I like it a lot. And there’s nothing better than a Martin Scorsese music documentary/concert film. And this has loads of music in it. That’s what we’re here for anyway.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark — * * * (3 stars)
It’s surprisingly solid compared to what I thought I was getting. Thinking that’s because Guillermo produced it. But it’s very kid-focused, and it’s actually trying to be scarier than something starring kids would normally be. I didn’t really care, because horror just isn’t my genre, but I appreciated everything about what they were trying to do. I don’t think this amounts to anything other than “pretty decent” for most people, but honestly, the fact that this wasn’t a 2½ star movie for me is kinda surprising.
A Score to Settle — * * * (3 stars)
Nicholas Cage paycheck movie. I will watch every single one of these without regret. This one was actually watchable. He seemed to be trying here, and the movie was able to string together a series of scenes I was actively engaged with. Most of the time I’ll tune out for scenes at a time, knowing the plot is going through the motions and waiting for him to show up and/or give a shit. Here, he seemed to be acting, and the movie actually provided a bit of a narrative. Not a great one, but a watchable one, which is not a given for him anymore, unless the movie is clearly one of the ‘crazy’ ones. He does seem to be folding in on himself with these VOD movies, though. He did… I forget what the actual title was, Dying of the Light, I think. The Paul Schrader movie that he released online for free as Dark. That movie had him as a guy losing his sight, trying to do one last good thing on the way out. This is kinda like that. He’s a guy who went to jail for his mobster buddies and is now out, and with (insert title here). So basically he’s there to spend the money they gave him while he went away, and take out the guys who are responsible for him being in jail. It’s… look, in the whole of the Cage oeuvre, this is a blip. This is nothing. It’s a footnote. It’s forgettable. But as compared to the stuff he’s put out the past five years (not counting something like Mandy), this is one of the baseline decent ones.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Didn’t give a shit about the first one, really don’t give a shit about this one. This is a kids movie and I leave these to the kids. Illumination also, as a company, does not appeal to me. They’ve yet to make a single movie where I said anything more than “sure” to. Mostly I don’t like them, don’t care, or really don’t like them. And normally the really don’t like is reserved for the Minions. Also, that fucking Grinch shit last year. Holy hell. But yeah, whatever on this movie.
Secret Obsession — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Shitty Netflix thriller about a woman who wakes up from an attack with amnesia and is brought home by her husband. Or not, because guess what, he’s a crazy stalker who’s making her think he’s her husband! Yeah, this is garbage, and you know it’s garbage. Why are you watching this nonsense. Honestly, if this platform didn’t exist, this shit would have been a Lifetime movie. Skip it, please don’t waste your time on something like this when there are so many halfway decent options out there.
See You Yesterday — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Awesome Netflix time travel movie. It’s about two smart kids who are set on building a time machine. Only, when they do, and it actually works, they find that one of their brothers winds up getting killed by the cops. So the whole thing becomes about them trying to go back and stop that from happening, which causes all sorts of time loop problems and whatnot. It’s really good. It’s a movie that has all the time travel stuff while also being about social issues. Very well done and one of the better movies Netflix has put out.
Sextuplets — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
It’s a movie with Marlon Wayans playing six siblings, both male and female, and wearing multiple fat suits. I don’t even think you need me to say anything further.
Shaft — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I wasn’t sure why they were making this, almost twenty years after the first one. But you know what? I figured it out pretty quick. The setup is that they have original Shaft, Richard Roundtree, new Shaft, Samuel L. Jackson, and then Shaft Jr., Jessie Usher. It’s mostly a father-son story. Roundtree doesn’t get involved until the third act. But man… do they find a great way to do this. This is a straight up comedy. Samuel L. Jackson as a character is hilarious. They basically looked at Shaft and said, “Okay, how does he fit into a 2019 society?” And the answer is, he doesn’t. He comes across as sexist, misogynist, and totally out of touch. And they just play that up. He’s an awful father, and he can’t stand that his son is an uptight, bookworm kid trying to be in the FBI. They get every bit of mileage out of that relationship that they can, and when it starts to not work, they bring in Regina Hall as Shaft’s ex-wife/the kid’s mother. It’s so much fun. Trust me on this. This is one of the more entertaining surprises of the year. I did not expect this to be this good.
Share — * * * (3 stars)
Interesting indie movie that ended up getting released on HBO. Girl wakes up on the lawn one morning with no memory of what happened the night before. She knows she went to a party and drank too much, but that’s it. Then a day or two later, a video shows up that shows her passed out and some dudes at the party pulling her pants down. So now it becomes a thing. Did they do something? Was she assaulted? So then she reports it, and now it’s a case, and there’s all this icky fallout, and we follow her and her parents as they deal with this whole situation. It… it’s interesting, but also doesn’t really show you a lot of the interesting stuff. Which is a double-edged sword. It cuts away when scenes are going to go into melodramatic/obvious territory. But also it means nothing happens. It makes sense that this went to HBO. It’s watchable, sort of has to do with a big issue, but isn’t really that great that it should have been put out theatrically. For me, it’s kind of like The Tale, which was always just kind of okay, but also not something I really ever need to see again.
Skin — * * * (3 stars)
So the short this was based on won Best Original Short at the Oscars earlier this year. It’s a completely different movie and one has nothing to do with the other. That other one was a Twilight Zone episode of sorts (white supremacist beats up a black guy in front of his family, and then his friends kidnap that guy and tattoo his entire body with ink so when he gets back home, his racist family will assume a black guy is breaking in and shoot him). This is more a story of redemption. Dude who was raised by white supremacists but deep down is a good person starts to stray away from them and eventually gets his shit together with the help of a woman. It’s… whatever. It’s got good people in it, but ultimately there’s not a whole lot here past a committed Jamie Bell performance. I’m not really sure who this is for.
The Souvenir — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I had absolutely no idea what this movie was at all. Like, at all. I knew Tilda Swinton was in it, I knew it was a Part 1 of multiple movies and I knew it was A24. And on that alone, I was in. Never watched a trailer, never did anything except sit down and watch the movie. And honestly, it was not what I was expecting. So, the director is a friend of Tilda’s, because they worked together on a short in the 80s. And she wrote this movie about her experiences growing up. It stars Tilda’s daughter (who has never acted on screen before), and it’s about a young film student in the 80s who has a relationship with an older man. It’s… interesting, because not much actually happens, yet I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. A movie like this walks a very fine tightrope. And I’d suspect that this got amazing reviews and is very big on Metacritic. This seems like the kind of movie that pretentious film folk would love. It’s also something that the general moviegoing public wouldn’t necessary enjoy that much. I’m very much in that middle ground and just sort of like what I like. And this is one of those — really solid, well-made, kinda slow, definitely had some parts that felt a bit much, but in the end it was really fascinating and I enjoyed it. Not for everyone, but I definitely think this goes down as one of the better efforts of 2019.
Spider-Man: Far from Home — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
We’ll start by saying — the third and final Marvel movie of 2019. Not as good as Endgame, better than Captain Marvel. And not as good as Homecoming was. That said, fun movie. I had a hard time with it because you knew going in that Mysterio is a villain, so you’re just kinda watching the first hour going, “I know all of this is bullshit, so why are we spending so much time on it?” And also, I’d rather have watched the scenes of Peter Parker being Spider-Man and trying not to let his friends find out. That stuff to me was more interesting. But overall, it’s solid. Gyllenhaal did okay, in what is basically a thankless role. Holland is really good as Spider-Man, Zendaya actually gets real stuff to do, and I’m very interested to see where that character goes from here. I see what they were doing with it, the whole Iron Man legacy and is he gonna take up the mantle, and the nice bits in the plane with “Back in Black” and all that…it’s fun. I’d say this is middle-to-lower tier Marvel overall, but I think it’s gonna be dependent on what they do with the third one to really see where this one ends up. I will say two final things. First, I thought it would have been awesome if they did a thing where he and the friend got snapped but MJ didn’t, so now he’s back and he’s still 17 but she’s 22 and she’s this really cool woman who’s grown out of her high school phase and he’s still this awkward high schooler with a crush. That would have been an amazing dynamic. But I see why they did what they did. The relationship would have had to have been further along for that to have really done something. Second: bringing J.K. Simmons back as J. Jonah Jameson is the single greatest thing to ever happen in the Marvel Universe. I actually stood up and applauded in the theater. Like white people on airplanes when they land. I fucking clapped. That shit is so amazing that it automatically makes everything about this movie better to me. I cannot wait to see what they do with him in the future.
Starfish — * * * (3 stars)
I heard about this early in the year and immediately needed to see it, because there was a chance this was gonna be a huge hidden gem for me and a film that I loved. The synopsis for this on IMDB is (and I’m paraphrasing): “a girl grieves the loss of her best friend on the day the world ends.” And the trailer has all these beautiful, surreal images, and it made me think it was gonna be this movie about going into a fantasy world to cope for a major loss, and I thought they might be doing some really cool things and got excited. This is exactly the kind of movie I would want to discover. But… the plot was kind of dense and it went in directions I wasn’t really into, and overall it just ended up being okay. Which is fine. Sometimes things don’t work out. I’m just glad it was there to try with.
Stockholm — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Interesting movie that gave us the term Stockholm Syndrome. Ethan Hawke plays a dude who walks into a bank and very brazenly robs it. And he holds some people hostage, including Noomi Rapace. Given the syndrome it gave us, you can guess some of the stuff that happens. Personally, I found it really engaging. Hawke and Rapace were really good, as was Mark Strong (as always. Pretty much as always for all three). What I found most interesting is how low stakes a lot of it felt. And by that I mean, this was not in the US and took place in the 70s, so they didn’t feel the need to add action beats for the sake of action beats. It’s very much a character piece. Plus, also, the penalty for doing shit in Sweden is so much less severe than in the US, and seeing that play out also was fascinating to me.
Stuber — * * * (3 stars)
Took me a good portion of the movie to realize the title refers to the fact that the main character’s name is Stu and drives for Uber. Maybe have capitalized the U? Whatever. It’s a decent premise. Dave Bautista is a cop who has bad eyesight and just got Lasik, so he can’t drive. And Kumail Nanjiani is the Uber driver who picks him up. So basically Bautista’s going around trying to get the bad guy who killed his partner and Kumail is just driving him around and miserable about it. It’s a good premise. And they have a decently fun dynamic. The movie is just kind of watchable at best. Nothing particularly great in there. It’s fun though, in a diverting kinda way. Not sure I could have reasonably expected any more from this. Honestly, the biggest compliment you can pay it is, “It’s not shit? Wow.”
Stuck — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I’ve been tracking this for a bunch of years. Just because of the premise: it’s an original musical set on a subway car during a power outage. Original musical alone, I’ll watch. And then the premise of being set on a subway car — even cooler. The only downside was what the odds were of it turning out to be 9/11. Fortunately, not the case, so I don’t hate this movie on principal forever. That said… not great either way. It’s like six or seven strangers, and the character who brings them all together is Giancarlo Esposito, a homeless man. And each of the people is basically just a walking stereotype. And one by one he gets them to reveal themselves, often by song. It’s not great in execution. But the concept — totally cool. So there’s that.
Summer Night — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This is an ensemble movie about teen relationships. But like, 22-25, not 18. Very serious, not really fun at all, and it reeks of, “This is the first screenplay I finished outside of grad school, and they let me direct it. But not quite, since the writer-director was a child actor and was the kid in Jack Frost and Running with Scissors. It’s the kind of movie that would be directed by an actor. It’s like if you took a Richard Linklater movie and completely missed all the stuff that makes a Richard Linklater movie good. It’s just a bunch of early twenty-somethings hanging out over the course of one night, dealing with all sorts of relationship shit. Who got their girlfriend pregnant, who is with a hot girl but really should be with the mousy girl no one notices who’s had a crush on him forever, who cheated on who at a party and now wants to talk about it… all that nonsense. Shit I normally hate in movies. And it’s not even done well. Just go fucking watch Dazed and Confused or Everybody Wants Some instead. This is just pointless.
The Sun Is Also a Star — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
YA too-serious romance bullshit. Holy shit, why do they keep subjecting us to these? It’s a YA romance, but… you ready for this? She’s about to be deported because of the country’s immigration policy making it harder for people who’ve grown up here to become permanent citizens. So I guess maybe points for trying to be woke? We’ve gone from Nicholas Sparks and cancer to immigration status as things hindering a relationship. I guess that’s something? Anyway, this movie is boring as shit and you should never have to subject yourself to it.
Sword of Trust — * * * (3 stars)
Very indie movie starring Marc Maron. But he’s not really the lead of the movie, since it’s kind of a four-hander. He plays a pawn shop owner who works with a younger guy in the store. A lesbian couple comes to pawn an old sword one of their grandfathers had and bequeathed to her in the will. They claim it’s a Civil War relic that claims it’s proof the South actually won the Civil War. Maron thinks it’s ridiculous, then sees online that there are people who actually believe this to be the case and will pay loads of money for a “real” relic of the sort. So of course it ends up with all four going on a road trip to sell this sword. It’s… it’s very indie, and very low budget. It’s sort of in the middle of mumblecore and regular indie, which seems to be where Lynn Shelton works. It’s watchable, but not really something I ever need to think about seeing again.
Teen Spirit — * * * (3 stars)
It’s Cinderella but with American Idol. That’s basically the premise of this movie. Elle Fanning is growing up in a Russian/Eastern European house with a single mother and comes from basically poverty. And she dreams of being a famous singer. So she goes out for this singing show, the rules of which are vague and it’s just generic enough for you to want to go with it. And she goes on, with the help of a family friend (a Russian former opera singer who is now a drunk) acting as her guardian, to get on the show. It’s… I don’t know what the point of this all is. It’s directed by Max Minghella in his debut. He previously wrote The 9th Life of Henry Drax, which was also kind of whatever. This at least feels watchable, but the drawback is that she’s singing all these pop songs that are just… why are you choosing those? It seems like you’re designing this to be liked by teenagers and no one else. Plus, none of the songs ever make it clear whether or not Elle Fanning can sing. It actually kinda seems like she can’t really, but she could act, so they gave her songs in her range so she could passably do it. So the whole thing comes off as kind of awkward, especially since we have no clue how the show really operates, so we’re just going along with “Okay, and now she’s in the finals.” I don’t know. This movie did nothing for me, though the Russian manager/opera singer guy was conceptually an interesting character.
Them That Follow — * * * (3 stars)
The idea of a movie about a religious cult that handles poisonous snakes sounded pretty sweet. Unfortunately the film doesn’t really amount to much past that. Great cast: Walt Goggins, Olivia Colman, Alice Englert, Kaitlyn Dever and Thomas Mann. But the movie doesn’t give them a whole lot of stuff to do. So it’s just okay. Interesting setup, so-so execution. It happens.
To Dust — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I loved this movie. This is already one of the best hidden gems of 2019. It’s a dark comedy (very indie, but don’t let that stop you in this case) about a Hassidic Jew whose wife dies. And he, worried about what will happen to her body after she is buried, seeks out answers. Which come in the form of high school science teacher and pothead Matthew Broderick. And they form this weird friendship which eventually involves them getting and slaughtering a pig and burying it to see how it decomposes. Trust me, it’s great. It’s so much fun. Géza Röhrig from Son of Saul plays the rabbi, and he’s great. Definitely one of those movies almost no one knows about that should be seen.
Tolkien — * * * (3 stars)
Incredibly boring J.R.R. Tolkien biopic. You know the movie’s not the one you should watch when he and his school buddies are like, “What should we call ourselves?” and when the word “fellowship” is happened upon, the movie does practically the equivalent of clouds parting and a swell of music playing. Just… really not that interesting. It’s one of those movies that makes you realize, sometimes you just want the work and not the person. Kinda like that J.D. Salinger biopic (also played by Nicholas Hoult, who apparently hasn’t met a famous literary figure he doesn’t wanna play. Let’s also not forget that he is going to be Nikola Tesla in The Current War, whenever they release that movie). Sometimes, even if they go through some shit, you kinda just want to look at the work.
The Tomorrow Man — * * * (3 stars)
Nice little romance with John Lithgow and Blythe Danner. He plays a dude convinced the world is gonna end and is preparing for it. But also he kinda knows he’s letting life pass him by, so he reaches out to make a connection with her, and things go from there. It’s very sweet. Weird, but sweet.
Toy Story 4 — * * * * (4 stars)
I had such reservations about this movie since they announced it. They ended the last one so beautifully there was almost no point in continuing the series because they could only screw it up. Even the trailers made me wonder just what in the hell they were doing with this. And honestly… it worked. I’m not gonna say I liked it better than 3, but I will say that this was a satisfying story that was worth telling. And that’s so much more than I expected to get out of this movie. It’s not just satisfying in the main storyline that has to do with Woody… there’s the payoff with the ‘villain’ of the film, with the other toys, with Keanu Reeves’ Duke Kaboom (how great is “Yes I Can-ada”?). It’s just a delightful movie that fits in well with the Toy Story arc. I’m not sure it totally escapes the “superfluous Pixar sequel” valley, but it gets near the top, which is more than I ever expected it to.
Trial by Fire — * * * (3 stars)
It’s an Ed Zwick movie. Which probably meant a lot more twenty years ago. Back then, everything the dude made was a hardcore Oscar watch. Nothing ever really won, but it was always that level of prestige. Glory, Legends of the Fall, Courage Under Fire, The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond… his movies mattered for a long while. I bet most people would struggle to name three movies he’s directed since Blood Diamond. You know what they are? Defiance (remember that movie? With Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell and Liev Schreiber), Love & Other Drugs (Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway), Pawn Sacrifice (Bobby Fischer movie with Tobey Maguire), Jack Reacher 2 (yes he did direct that movie) and this. I bet for two of those you went “Oh yeah, that movie,” because you’d completely forgot about it, for two of them you went, “I don’t even know what they are,” and for the last one, it was, “He directed that?” So yeah. That’s where Ed Zwick is now. This movie, by the way, is based on a true story of a guy who was convicted and sentence to death for the murder of his three children. His neighbor saw him coming out of his house while it was on fire, saying that his kids were inside, then calmly moving his car away and standing there, watching it, until the firemen came, at which point he started screaming. Investigators found what looked like evidence of arson, and bam, sentenced to death. And then, years later, as he protests his innocence, Laura Dern shows up and says, “I don’t know if this guy did it.” And has a sort of Dead Man Walking kind of correspondence with him. Only she’s a single mother instead of a nun. Though most single mothers are basically saints to begin with, so it’s not that different. Anyway, Jack O’Connell plays the guy, and he sure loves disguising himself in roles. He plays a complete southern, white trash-looking dude, and you may not even know it’s him if you didn’t see the credits. The movie… ehh. Not great. Prison and trial movies are always interesting. And this movie has both a trial and prison stuff. But it doesn’t really amount to anything. It seems shoddy and low budget. The CGI of the fire looks like they had no money to do it. Not what I’d expect out of an Ed Zwick movie. Mostly I was watching, wondering how he’d gone from those earlier movies to this.
UglyDolls — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This is the kind of movie that ends studios. And honestly, I think it did. STX is now scrambling and re-dating all their fall movies and even pushing a bunch into 2020 because they only have the money to release one big movie at a time. Which is exactly what happened to the Weinstein Company before they went bankrupt. They put a lot of eggs into this movie’s basket. They apparently bought the entire Uglydolls brand to make this. Apparently they thought this would be huge and they’d be selling merch forever. And instead, this bombed so hard, the company probably won’t be around in three years. But also, how did anyone think this would turn out okay? The story is generic, bordering on lazy. It has all the tropes of junk food animation that so many of these movies have, that will render them forgotten within a few years, even if they are good, which this is not. I can’t tell if I actively hate that this movie exists or I’m just stunned by the fact that they even thought it would be a good idea in the first place and not remotely surprised it’s bad.
Vita and Virginia — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
It’s that Virginia Woolf lesbian movie. They quietly dumped this on VOD in August, which is so on-brand for this kind of movie it’s ridiculous. It’s not very good, though the cast is trying and they properly made it (good sets, costumes, etc). It’s just that these kinds of movies don’t really work anymore. That’s the big thing about it. Plus, you know the only reason people are gonna be watching this is the sex scenes. This will be the kind of movie people know about only for those. Which I guess is better than just not being remembered at all?
We Have Always Lived in the Castle — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I feel like I’m in the minority of people, going 3.5 on this. But I just liked it. It’s a gothic drama about a family who stay holed up in their house, not interacting with their townfolk, and what happens when a relative of theirs comes to stay and completely turns the family dynamic on its head. I was just really engaged by the whole thing. I thought Taissa Farmiga did a good job, I liked Alexandra Daddario and Sebastian Stan in it. It worked for me. I also am aware that a lot of other people will not feel the same way. It’s a movie that isn’t really about plot so much as drama between characters and secrets and stuff like that. Which doesn’t always work for me. But it did here.
The White Crow — * * * (3 stars)
Ralph Fiennes-directed movie about a Russian ballet dancer who defects. Fiennes makes solid movies, but, like most of his others… I don’t really care past, “That was well-made.” He also directed a movie about Charles Dickens’ mistress. I’m not really sure I needed that story or this one, but he gave them to us, and clearly he cares and someone thought they’d be worth making. So I guess good for him. Otherwise, meh.
Wild Rose — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Movie about a single mother in Glasgow fresh out of prison who dreams of going to Nashville to be a country music singer. It’s… okay, so I had hoped it would be better than it was, but that’s just me wanting it to be great. It’s a really solid movie. It feels like a UK indie on a lot of levels with a lot of the stuff you’d expect out of that. And really what everyone’s gonna come out with on this movie, regardless of whether or not they think it’s good — Jessie Buckley is tremendous in it. She’s the star of the movie and this is the kind of movie that launches a career. She was apparently on Taboo, which I haven’t seen, as well as Chernobyl, and I imagine that’s all a part of her ascendance. She’s gonna be in the next season of Fargo, she’s in the Judy Garland movie with Renee Zellweger, she’s in a period drama with Keira Knightley and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and she’s in Charlie Kaufman’s new movie. So keep all that in mind when, in two years, there are articles, “Who is Jessie Buckley, the star of (x)?” Those articles always come two years too late, and based on this performance, you want to get on that train now.
Wine Country — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Amy Poehler directed a movie starring her and her friends in Napa. So basically they got to hang out and drink wine for a few weeks together. Movies were made on less. Unfortunately, this movie’s not very good. It’s just women hanging out, without a real plot to speak of, and loose character moments that establish the one character trait each person has. It just feels flat. It feels like the kind of thing that knows you’re probably watching for the cast but never did anything else to make it worthwhile past that. Even the audience this was made for (middle-aged women) didn’t seem to like it. What does that tell you?
Yesterday — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
A movie with a fantastic general premise that largely delivers on it. But also backs into the same corner inherent within the premise, and doesn’t quite know how to gracefully get itself out of it. The premise is: what if, suddenly, no one in the world remembered that the Beatles existed except one guy? And they get a lot out of the premise, and he puts their songs out just so they’re still alive, becoming a huge star in the process. But really the whole thing is about his relationship with his manager / ‘clearly they should be together’ friend Lily James. And once again she delights as she tends to always do. Danny Boyle adds a visual flair to it (interesting that he turned down Bond for this, but kinda makes sense too), and Richard Curtis writes a fun script that does run into some problems at times. There are a lot of logic questions I have, but if you just take it as pure entertainment… totally amusing, totally fine. The songs are translated well (except one that seemed like a weird choice. I think it was “Help” maybe, that they turned into a punk song? That was an interesting way to go), and it just works as a nice little story. Danny Boyle always makes worthwhile movies, and this fits right in with the rest of them.
The Films I Haven’t Seen Yet
- Amazing Grace
- Echo in the Canyon
- Late Night
- American Woman
- The Art of Self Defense
- The Nightingale
- Brian Banks
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette
- Ready or Not
- Brittany Runs a Marathon
- Falling Inn Love
- Angel of Mine
- The Fanatic
- Official Secrets
- Don’t Let Go
- Before You Know It
Favorite Movies So Far
- Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
- John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
- Toy Story 4
- The Beach Bum
- The Farewell
- The Standoff at Sparrow Creek
- The Perfection
- Avengers: Endgame
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