2019: The Year in Reviews (Part III)
What a weird third of the year this one’s been. That last reviews article went up at the end of August. And by the time that posted (I’d say, about a week before), I stopped watching movies. Literally, for a full month, from the end of August through the end of September, I watched only one new movie, and that was because I went to a theater with a family member to see it. Otherwise I did not watch a single movie that was not already on TV in the background of the room in which I was in. Which is crazy. The amount of stuff I watch each year, having a full month of nothing was… well, I do that basically every year anyway in January. But you know what I mean. Even in that month I’m usually finishing up the previous year and just not watching anything new. It’s a lighter month, but I still watch stuff. This time… nothing. But then I started again, had like 50 movies piled up and it’s been basically nonstop since. But hey, that one month.
Anyway, this is the final batch of reviews containing everything from this year that I’ve watched between September… well, October.. and now. There’s still two weeks left to the year and I’ll still be watching stuff throughout those weeks, even as the recap articles start going up (and even into January, as is always the case). But, just so we have something to reference in those wrap up articles, here’s everything I’ve seen up until this point in time.
3 Days with Dad — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
It’s funny… I tracked this, knowing it was gonna be generic and that I wasn’t gonna care about it, yet I saw it anyway. I guess because I saw J.K. Simmons was in it and it was written and directed by Larry Clarke. It’s… whatever. Family getting together to bury their father. You’ve seen these movies before. Nothing revelatory here. It was a dud for me. These happen.
6 Underground — * * * (3 stars)
Oh, boy. Or, I guess… oh, Bay. This is most on-brand shit ever. You know Bay had this idea one day like, “Maybe I could do this…” Because it’s about a really rich dude who recruits a team of people to basically be a rogue military force. They go around getting rid of evil dictators and shit. And it’s just fucking ridiculous, but also perfectly Michael Bay. That opening action sequence, without even the pretense of plot, and the slow-motion shots of them almost hitting nuns, dogs and children (which are unharmed, but all the random dude pedestrians they hit… that’s okay). Not to mention the use of what I assume is Imagine Dragons (it all sounds like Imagine Dragons to me) and other generic white teenager rock music, plus the Spice Girls and an out-of-nowhere techno remix of “O Fortuna”… it’s like the soundtrack from a bad movie. Then the out of nowhere sex scenes. At least the editing is less choppy than usual and he doesn’t go as nuts with the revolving camera. But man, the story is just not there at all. And all the cheesy movie references and thinly veiled ‘jokes’ about millennials. This is the perfect example of a director hitting middle age and still pretending like he’s 30. This movie was out of style in 2004. And yet he’s still making it. You just don’t care about a single element in this movie, and they spend time with the villain as if anyone cares, and you don’t even care about the team, even with Ryan Reynolds, who feels perfect for this kind of movie. Because all he does is stand there and say comic relief stuff all the time. It might be Bay’s worst movie. I don’t love The Island, but I feel like that’s more solid than this is. This one… I couldn’t even get my usual enjoyment out of it. It’s so easy for me to go in for one of these movies. And I just could not get into this. I think the Transformers movies have shielded the fact that Bay just refuses to grow from doing the same damn thing over and over again.
10 Minutes Gone — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
It’s another Bruce Willis paycheck movie. Only now, he’s increasingly no longer the star of them, because I think he realized he can get paid a decent amount, do two days of work and not have to be the one that gets blamed for starring in these shitty movies. The star of the film is Michael Chiklis, and he’s a bank robber who gets hit on the head during a job and can’t remember what happened, and now all the guys are killing each other… it’s dumb. Willis is in another movie for most of it and has like, one scene with other cast members at the end. Generic all around, really no reason to ever see this one.
21 Bridges — * * * (3 stars)
This was always a weird concept to me: bank robbers murder a bunch of cops, so they shut down all the bridges to Manhattan to keep the killers on the island (I guess because boats don’t exist?) and start the manhunt. Now, if there were somehow a way to actually make that feel like it could happen and the whole thing really felt contained to Manhattan, Escape from New York style, and they were hunting these guys that way, I’d be all for it. But this way it just feels like a shitty film convention, and that’s what it is. Chadwick Boseman stars, which is pretty great, and it’s really about him chasing the killers but uncovering a dirty cop ring… you know, everything you’ve seen in these movies before. You can spot the real bad guys from a mile away and this movie uses the same playbook as all the others. Nothing more than a completely watchable, instantly forgettable cop thriller.
Abominable — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Zendaya wasn’t Meechee. This is our second yeti movie in a year, and I’ve cared about precisely neither of them. I’m sure it’s perfectly fine, but sometimes these animated kids movies just don’t click for me and I leave them to the kids they’re made for. This was one of those. It happens.
Adam — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Very weird movie that I think is trying to be a comedy at times? It’s hard to know if I’m supposed to care or laugh or if what I’m watching is actually kind of exploitative? Usually the key is, if they make it work, then it’s not so bad, but here… I don’t know. It’s about a guy who goes to visit his older sister in New York, only to discover that she’s now hanging out with a group of trans people, has a trans girlfriend and this new ‘woke’ person. Everyone knows that story. Someone finds a crowd, gets involved and they become a different person. But here, he finds a girl he thinks is cute and starts dating her. Only he lies to her and says he’s trans. So it’s basically a dude lying to a girl to sleep with her. Which is kinda fucked up? I’m not sure how the trans community feels about this film, if they feel any way about it at all since most people barely know it exists. All I can really speak to about this is how I felt about it as a film, and I wasn’t particularly interested in anything that happened. Brief moments worked for me, and that was mainly due to the authenticity the actors brought to the material. But otherwise this didn’t really amount to anything and just wasn’t for me at all.
Ad Astra — * * * * (4 stars)
James Gray is the king of the solid, classy film that somehow never hits the mainstream. This was gonna be his best bet — a space film with Brad Pitt. But even this doesn’t feel like people care. This is probably Gray’s best film. He seems to be getting better each time he makes something. Lost City of Z was fantastic. This is even better than that. It’s basically Heart of Darkness in space. Pitt is an astronaut whose father, Tommy Lee Jones, is a super famous astronaut who disappeared into deep space on a mission to find extraterrestrial life. And now, there are phantom pulses coming from space believed to be coming from Jones, who might still be alive. So Pitt is called upon to go try to send a message to his father, which ends up sending him on basically a journey into deep space to go find him. And it’s beautiful. The film is stunning, the tone is meditative, which I love. It’s not just some space adventure. It’s all totally grounded and real. And what I love most about it is how legitimate it all feels. As in, if this reality were the future, could you see all these things being there? The giant communications tower so we can communicate to bases on other moons and planets, the base on the moon that’s been taken over by companies putting their logos on it, or my favorite — Pitt takes a shuttle to the Moon, which is basically just like taking a flight from New York to LA, and when he asks for a blanket, they make him pull out a credit card for like $150. Which is probably the single most accurate thing in the film. But yeah, it’s great. I think, like most of Gray’s films, it doesn’t fit into an easy genre and marketing space, so people are gonna go in expecting one thing and not get it. There’s no real action here, and it’s all an emotional journey, and the ending… might not be what some people want. But I love it. I think it’s one of the best movies of this year, with a great performance by Pitt and masterful direction by Gray.
The Addams Family — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Boy did I hate this. I thought it was gonna be fine. Conrad Vernon, who did Sausage Party, making an Addams Family movie. The Addams Family is one of the more easily adaptable stories out there. They made two great 90s movies from it and it lends itself to something good. But the minute they showed the character designs, I knew there was no chance it was gonna be good. You could just see it. You knew what the tone of that movie was gonna be and it was not the right one. And even though they cast it well, seemingly, the film is just bad. It’s not interesting, it’s not funny, the story doesn’t work, the jokes don’t work, the animation style is cheesy… I actively disliked this movie and it really made me upset, because it reminds me of what great material there is for the Addams Family to be used in film and how they just completely fucked it up. It’s a shame.
Adopt a Highway — * * * (3 stars)
Interesting little indie. Ethan Hawke is an ex-con who is out of prison after over twenty years and is trying to get his life together. He’s got a shitty job washing dishes at a fast food joint, doesn’t know how to use the internet… the usual. One night, he finds an abandoned baby in a dumpster, and struggles with turning the baby in or keeping it for himself. It’s a weird film, because I kept waiting for it to go somewhere, but then you realize, it’s just what you’re watching. That’s the film. It never really takes off. So it’s watchable, because Hawke is always watchable, but there’s no real purpose to the film. It dangles interesting possibilities out there but never follows any of the threads. Oh well.
The Aeronauts — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I wasn’t sure what this was gonna be. Because all I knew was, “Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, hot air balloon.” Which, honestly was enough to get me in. But I still didn’t really know what the movie was gonna be. A drama, a romance… I just didn’t know. And man, was this a surprise to me. Because it’s just a straight balloon adventure. Not like, Around the World in 80 Days adventure. Like, he’s a scientist and she’s a daredevil pilot and they’re trying to see how high of an altitude they can reach in a balloon so he can study the atmosphere and atmospheric pressure. And of course, once they reach a certain height, they have to… not die. And it’s thrilling. They shot part of it in IMAX and you really haven’t experienced thrills until you’ve seen someone climb up to the top of a frozen balloon with little oxygen with nothing but a single rope. It’s crazy. I loved this movie. Big, big fan of this. I didn’t know I needed balloon action in my life until I saw this.
Age Out — * * * (3 stars)
This used to be called Friday’s Child. Whatever the title was, it was never really gonna amount to anything interesting. I thought it could be good, since Tye Sheridan and Imogen Poots and Caleb Landry Jones star in it. Basically it’s a kid who ages out of foster care and is now on his own. And of course without a proper structure he starts resorting to petty crime, and that stuff. It’s a weird one, but it is well-directed. The director is A.J. Edwards, who was a Terrence Malick protege for a while and did that movie The Better Angels, which was about Lincoln’s childhood. So the result with this is a movie that looks good but never really has any narrative heft whatsoever. It’s just kind of there and you want it to be better or more interesting, but it just isn’t.
Amazing Grace — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Documentary about Aretha Franklin recording this album in a church in Los Angeles over the course of two nights. It is, quite simply, a religious experience. It’s just amazing to watch her do her thing. Don’t miss out on this one. No one should go without seeing Aretha sing like this.
The Amazing Johnathan Documentary — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Great documentary on a great magician/comedian. I grew up watching a lot of Amazing Jonathan because I got into comedy at an absurdly young age, especially comedy that was not for people my age at the time. I must have been like, nine or ten and watching HBO comedy showcases and Comedy Central half-hours and things like that. And he was always on them with his act. So I always thought he was hilarious, even though he’s one of those guys who was always very much one of those Vegas-type performers, with generally the same act over and over. But anyway, this documentary is about him in recent years, because he was diagnosed with severe heart problems, to the point where he was told he had a very short amount of time to live. And then of course, he outlived that and eventually this documentary was created. But what’s great about the documentary is, because he is a magician, is that it’s trying to be its own weird magic trick of sorts. Because the crew is following him, and then all of a sudden there’s ‘another crew’, and you find out about a ‘third’ documentary and it’s starting to make you wonder just how much of it is true, to the point where they make you question if he’s even faking the illness thing. It’s a lot of fun. It has fun with the facts and gives something befitting of its subject. I quite enjoyed this one.
American Factory — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Netflix doc produced by the Obamas’ production company about an (insert title here) that shuts down but years later is purchased by a Chinese company. So now a bunch of people get jobs again, and it’s about the Americans now dealing with Chinese ownership and working alongside them. It’s got a lot to say about a lot of current day issues… I just am not interested in this stuff. It happens every year. I’m sure this is considered one of the best documentaries of the year and it’s gonna get all sorts of nominations and people who love documentaries are gonna love it… I’m just not interested. The two documentaries I talked about above this are more my speed. That’s just how it is with me.
American Son — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Essentially a one-act play, with Kerry Washington as a mother who goes to the police station when her son doesn’t come home that night. And as she waits and gets increasingly frustrated, we find out more about her, her marriage and her relationship with her son. It works more as a stage play than a film. Kerry Washington is… she’s about three notches too high on the histrionic scale than she needs to be, but overall the film is engaging. It’s clear where it’s gonna go, but I was fine with the ride.
American Woman — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Very strange movie with Sienna Miller as the mother of a daughter who goes missing. And it’s mostly a character study of her and how she goes about her life. Didn’t really do it for me. Kinda uninteresting all the time. Nothing really grabbed my attention. Oh well. These happen.
Angel of Mine — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Weird goddamn movie. Noomi Rapace plays a woman who one day meets a woman whose daughter looks (to her) exactly like the daughter she believes died in an accident that she caused. She’s had a breakdown and all that stuff, so now, when she starts voicing her suspicions, everyone tells her she’s crazy and thinks she’s losing her mind again. And she starts becoming obsessed with the girl and doing all this stalker stuff and the whole thing is about “is she right or is she losing her mind”? And honestly… the movie’s not good enough for me to care. Because the stuff she does is crazy to begin with, even if she thinks she’s right, everyone handles the situation badly, and then the movie turns into this insane series of revelations and crazy character decisions that just completely turned me off the film. Maybe if they handled the last act well, it could have pushed its way to three stars. But no. Not this one. This is just a mess of a movie and I don’t know at all what they were going for with it.
Another Day of Life — * * * (3 stars)
Adult animated movie about a war correspondent going around to different battlefields and covering the conflicts. It’s solid, but it’s just not gonna be for everyone. Didn’t do a whole lot for me, but it is better than most of the studio animated films just because it’s actually using the medium for something rather than just giving you talking animals.
Arctic Dogs — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Dumb, cheap animated movie. This is one of those where somehow they got all these famous people to be in it and you’re not sure why or how. I guess all the budget went into hiring them and not into making the damn thing. There’s a dog, and he wants to be a sled dog who delivers the mail, and it doesn’t really matter because it’s stupid and generic. No child should have to be subjected to this in an era where there are so many options out there in the animated field. In my way, we had no choice to watch shit like this if it was out there. Now, there’s no excuse.
The Art of Self-Defense — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This is by Riley Stearns, who did Faults a few years ago, which was a tremendous indie and a real hidden gem of a film. That is a drama (with an undercurrent of dark comedy, but it’s mainly a drama). This is a very absurdist comedy. Like, Yorgos level kind of humor. Not as dark as Yorgos can be, because Yorgos is willing to show incest and shit like that. This is Yorgos through the lens of American filters. Jesse Eisenberg is a meek, boring dude who gets attacked by a biker gang one night, so he decides to take karate lessons so he can defend himself. And pretty soon, karate becomes his life. And that’s all you need to know. It’s so funny. It’s not gonna be for everyone, the humor. So I’d suggest watching a trailer to see if you think it’s gonna be for you. But man, was this one of the more entertaining films I saw this year. What a great dark comedy.
Ask Dr. Ruth — * * * (3 stars)
Documentary about Dr. Ruth, the famous sex expert. I suspect most young people have no idea who she is. I was born in the late 80s, so I was aware of her growing up, just because she was always was a punchline in things (alongside Dear Abby and Joyce Brothers), but I never really knew anything about her. And this is her telling her story. And it’s quite wonderful. Mostly what I love about her — aside from the fact that she’s this tiny German lady talking frankly about sex with this great energy and love for life — is that she really gets to the heart of one of the more underdiscussed aspects of this country, which is its aversion to discuss sex and this puritan attitude toward it, which misinforms children and really does a disservice to most people. So I like that not only does it do a wonderful profile on this woman and her importance in her field and in the culture of the past 40 years, but also it really does speak to a big issue in society, which I know a lot of people who are into documentaries feel they should have in some form. So to me, this is all around a good thing.
Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Terrific documentary about a very worthy subject. Alice Guy-Blaché is one of the actual pioneers of cinema, female or otherwise. She was there with the Lumieres at the beginning, and she shot several hundred films at the turn of the 20th century. And yet, her name is/was almost erased from the history books for a long time. And the documentary traces her origins and her impact on the film industry. It’s not a perfect documentary, but it does the job of at least introducing you to this woman you probably knew nothing about and gets you at least interested in her contributions to cinema, which are quite substantial. Any fan of film and film history needs to look at this one.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — * * * * (4 stars)
The selling point to this movie is Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, but that’s kind of a misnomer, because he’s not the focal point of the film. If you saw the (wonderful) documentary from last year, you heard the story about the journalist who went to interview Rogers. That’s what this is about. A guy who writes hard-hitting political pieces who gets what he feels is an assignment that’s beneath him. But of course he meets Mr. Rogers and he changes his life, because he helps him reconnect with his estranged father. And that’s really the crux of this film. Which is the right way to go, as much as you feel like you want more of Hanks as Rogers. But the character works best as a supporting part, to maintain his air of mystery and come in and go out and get the best parts of his character in there. But aside from Hanks (who is just wonderful. He doesn’t try to be Mr. Rogers so much as embody him, and it totally works), the rest of the cast is really good. Matthew Rhys does a good job as the journalist in what is essentially a thankless role. But the real surprise to me was Chris Cooper. Mainly because I didn’t know he was even in the movie and because he’s the real revelation here. I mean, we all know how great Chris Cooper is, but immediately when he shows up, you get that this is the showy supporting character of the film and ultimately he becomes the real heart of the film. He’s spectacular here, and he’s gonna get completely ignored when it comes to awards in favor of Hanks. Overall, it’s a really strong film and it does make you feel good. My favorite aspect is using the Mr. Rogers city sets for establishing shots, which is just wonderful. That made me happiest of anything else in this movie.
Before You Know It — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This was a very lovely film. It’s written by its stars (and one of them directs as well) and is about a New York theater family who live in this struggling theater. It’s a father (played by Mandy Patinkin), his two daughters and one of their daughters (who is like 12). And they’re doing what they can to get by, putting on their own plays, but they’re all just sort of struggling in various ways. And the film is ultimately about the two girls, who from the age of like four thought their mother was dead, finding out that not only is their mother alive, but she’s a well known soap opera actress. And it becomes about them seeking her out, starting this relationship with her and just going through all the shit that they haven’t dealt with. It’s very indie, very New York indie, but it felt very fresh and well-written and well-acted. I really quite liked this movie and I think it’s worth seeing. I’m generally picky when it comes to films like this, but I think this is one of the good ones. Plus it’s made by women, and that’s something that should be supported. So seek this out before you go watch some other bullshit throwaway action movie or something. Just throw this in instead of one of those. That’s all I’m asking.
Benjamin — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Bob Saget directed this, which is the only reason I gave it a shot. Turns out… maybe I shouldn’t have. The idea is that it’s an intervention comedy, where the family gathers to sit his teenage son down and tell him he has a drug problem. But, SURPRISE! The adults have more problems than the kid! The comedy isn’t funny, the plot is obvious and the twists it takes not only don’t make it funny but also negate the entire purpose of the movie, to the point where you’re not even sure why they bothered or why you bothered watching it. Please don’t ever bother with this movie. It’s not worth your time.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie — * * * (3 stars)
We need to parse our way through this one. I’m not the world’s biggest Zach Galifianakis fan, but I do think the Between Two Ferns skits are funny. I wasn’t totally sold on this becoming a movie, since it’s like a movie based on an SNL skit. How do you sustain it? And it turns out… they sustain it by putting a barebones plot, putting interviews all throughout it and then basically just giving you comedy skits all between (since it’s a road trip movie). The ‘plot’ stuff generally doesn’t work, but the interviews themselves are very funny. That’s the only reason I would tell you to watch this movie. The actual celebrity interviews. The rest of it is just whatever. But it’s also on Netflix, which means no commitment to it. So that makes it easier to watch, if you want to.
Black and Blue — * * * (3 stars)
Cop thriller. Naomie Harris is a black cop in New Orleans (where she grew up) who is looked at as a traitor by all the people she knows (because she’s a cop) and (because she’s black) isn’t fully trusted by her fellow officers. And she sees some dirty officers murdering someone and captures it on her body cam. So now she’s on the run from basically all police and has to get the people who don’t trust her to help her survive and get the footage into the right hands so the cops can go down. It’s fine. It’s entertaining. It’s not gonna change your life, but these movies never do. It’s totally watchable and achieves exactly what it wants to achieve. So on that level, it’s totally worth watching. You know what you’re getting out of this, so if it feels like something you’d enjoy, 100% go for it.
Black Christmas — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
NOPE! Nope, nope, nope, nope. The last thing I need in my life is a Blumhouse movie that thinks it’s doing feminism. You can’t do feminism and yet uphold slasher movie values as you do it. You know what a true feminist Blumhouse movie is? A bunch of dudes being murdered mindlessly by a female killer. Straight Michelle Myers. Just fucking cold-blooded murder. Make THAT movie. I’ll watch the shit out of that movie. This is child’s play compared to what it could be. It’s just a shitty slasher movie that thinks it’s saying something. So congrats, you made the Zootopia of slasher movies.
Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes — * * * (3 stars)
It’s a documentary about the great jazz label that put out so many of the greats. Even if you don’t necessarily listen to jazz music, this documentary is, to me, great for creative people in general, because it shows that a lot of times, the best things come from setting up an environment where talented people can just create. And they make it very clear over the course of the documentary that the management of the label never told the artists what to play. They went in and they made the music, and the management said, “It’s our job to sell it.” And that was it. They never workshopped, they never said, “Hey, that last one sold, so do another one like that.” None of it. They just gave them the resources to make music and they put it out. And that, to me, is a something that gets lost a lot along the way in all sorts of industries.
The Boat — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Nice little contained thriller about a guy who finds an abandoned boat in the middle of the ocean, gets on board and pretty soon gets trapped inside its bathroom while the boat ends up on autopilot. So now the guy has to get himself out, while by himself with no way of getting help, and then there’s the issue of whether or not the boat is possessed or what. That part isn’t as interesting to me. But I did like him having to figure out how to get out of there, because otherwise he dies. So that part was nice. Overall a nice little thriller.
Brian Banks — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This story was one of the more interesting ones of the past decade. High school football player gets accused of rape by a fellow student and, on the advice of his lawyers, takes a plea deal rather than subject himself to a potentially long sentence. So he does like six or seven years, even though he didn’t actually do it. So he fights for years to get his case heard, eventually coming across the California Innocence Project, who takes on his case and helps him prove that he was innocent all along. And I thought this could be really interesting and really solid. Turns out… it’s about a half a step above a faith-based movie. And it’s just badly written, badly acted and just cheesy. It’s not a good movie at all. I’m very disappointed in this.
Brittany Runs a Marathon — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I didn’t know what I was getting with this. If it was gonna be a shitty comedy or what. And really it’s just a coming of… maturity comedy-drama, I guess is the best classification. It’s based on the writer’s actual roommate who did this. Jillian Bell stars as a woman turning 30 who parties way too hard. And she’s always been overweight and eventually just decides she’s gonna get her life in order. So she starts going to a runner’s group. And eventually she decides to run the New York City Marathon. And that’s the film. Her turning her life around and starting to actually make good decisions for a change. It’s solid, though there’s a bit too much of her being an asshole for most of it. It’s that typical movie thing of realizing you have to change inside and out, and how they handle part of it almost turned me off of it, but there’s too much good stuff here for me to turn on it completely. It’s really solid and there are some really nice, uplifting moments in it. I recommend this one for sure.
The Cat and the Moon — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I originally watched this because I saw that it was directed by Alex Wolff, who also stars in it. He’s best known as the kid from Hereditary or Jumanji. I’m always interested when actors write or direct, so I wanted to see what this was gonna be. And honestly, I was very impressed. He plays the son of a jazz man who died, and whose mother is in rehab, so he goes to stay with Mike Epps, who used to play with his father. And he goes into a new school, and it’s about him coming into his own in New York City, making friends, finding a girl, that whole thing. And of course getting over all the shit that he’s never dealt with. The usual indie stuff. Most people watching this probably won’t think all that much of it. But when you realize its 22 year-old star also wrote and directed it… that’s really impressive.
Charlie’s Angels — * * * (3 stars)
I wasn’t excited for this all year. I heard they were rebooting it and I heard the cast and I just knew it couldn’t be good. Watchable, sure, but good was out of the question. Because it was clear from who they picked that they were gonna force the feminism angle onto this. And I get it — the last iteration of this franchise wasn’t that progressive. But think about it — it’s kick-ass female secret agents. Really all you gotta do to make it progressive is not make them sex objects. But what this movie did was push the plot in the direction of making it progressive, which just diluted whatever story they were trying to tell. Which wasn’t all that interesting to begin with. They spend like 30 minutes trying to convince you that the female director of the movie is bad, when the one dude who seems trustworthy is really good. But you know where it’s going all the way. And the only part of this movie that was any interesting is the damn end credits. Because they actually let their hair down and have fun. The movie’s watchable, but clearly this didn’t appeal to anyone. And I think the trouble people have is trying to make it work for a particular segment of the audience rather than just making a good movie. So we’re just left with another franchise reboot/rework that doesn’t come together. Every year is littered with those.
Children of the Sea — * * * (3 stars)
Japanese anime about a girl whose father works at the aquarium and she befriends two boys who were raised by dugongs… it’s weird as hell. But ‘raised by dugongs’ is an amazing name for a band. So there’s that. This isn’t for me. Most anime isn’t for me at all. I gave it a shot, and it didn’t pan out.
A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
If you’ve actually gotten to the third film in this series, either you’re super into it and don’t care about the product or you’re like me, and you just watch everything because you don’t give a shit and will watch anything. It’s not good. It’s utterly ridiculous. They’re just manufacturing plots. It’s barely functional as a film, to the point where it’s almost amusing how generically cheesy it is. But ultimately I just don’t care. Another throwaway Netflix Christmas movie. Honestly at this point I wanna see how far into this series they get.
Cold Brook — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
William Fichtner directed a film. And I will always check out a film directed by an actor. It fascinates me. They’re always on set, so I want to see what they’ve taken from their experiences and what stories they feel they want to tell. It’s always a mixed bag of a result. Here, he co-wrote the film and stars in it, and it’s kind of a weird one. It has its moments where I was interested but gets off into something I was very much not interested in. He plays a small town dude who works as an overnight handyman at a campus museum. He and his buddy go in and replace the lights and bullshit. And one night, they see a guy hanging around the museum after hours. So they go try to get him out, and become overnight ‘celebrities’ in their tiny town for doing it. And then they get involved in the mystery of this guy, which involves all sorts of historical stuff in the town, and the dude is a ghost, and… yeah, it’s weird. I liked the idea of the guys hanging out and kind of wished they had this laid back small town vibe for the whole film. But hey, this is the story he wanted to tell, so good for him for getting it made.
Corporate Animals — * * * (3 stars)
Not-great comedy about a company that takes its employees on a ‘team building’ retreat, during which they get stuck in a cave. So of course tensions mount, and secrets come out and they resort to casual cannibalism. It’s not great. It’s not ever really funny and the tone just falls flat a lot of the time. I got through it, but it’s not something I particularly liked.
Countdown — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Blumhouse film that 100% got green lit based on its premise: what if there was an app that told you the exact moment of your death? And of course it’s a supernatural entity that comes and murders people and all that usual bullshit. It’s all about the gimmick and they wrote a 2-cent plot around it. It’s exactly what you’d expect and there’s nothing interesting in it whatsoever.
The Courier — * * * (3 stars)
Generic thriller with Olga Kurlenko as a Transporter-type driver who delivers packages and Gary Oldman as a major crime figure who is about to get indicted and convicted once a witness against him testifies. Of course, unknown to Kurylenko, the package she’s about to deliver is intended to kill the witness and help Oldman get away scot-free, so now she’s gotta protect this witness against a group of dirty cops while trapped in a parking garage. It’s okay. The action’s fine. Oldman exists in his own movie, which isn’t as bad as some of the other versions of this I’ve seen. And Kurylenko does some cool stuff as an action heroine. I’m totally fine with this, because I’m always predisposed to this kind of movie as long as it’s done reasonably okay.
Crown Vic — * * * (3 stars)
Cop thriller that takes place over one night. It’s sort of like Training Day, only there’s more of an overarching plot and less general intrigue. It starts with two guys committing a robbery and killing some cops, sparking an LA wide manhunt for them. Meanwhile, a rookie cop with a pregnant wife goes out on his first day with veteran cop Thomas Jane. And so they’re doing their patrols, picking up drunk people and answering calls… the usual shit. And of course the whole thing is gonna tie into the cop killers (not in a mainstream, web of corruption kinda way. Just in the… you know they’re gonna encounter them before the end of the night kinda way). It’s interesting, but doesn’t have that much going on. I feel like I’d want this to either be a miniseries or delve deeper into the characters for me to really love it. But there’s something here I really like. The movie just doesn’t tap into it enough.
The Current War — * * * (3 stars)
I had such high hopes for this back in 2017. The story sounded interesting, the cast was great, the director had just directed my favorite film of 2015 and it just felt like it was gonna be one of my favorite films of that year. Then they rushed it to come out for Toronto when it wasn’t ready, it got awful reviews and then immediately the Harvey Weinstein thing happened, which completely left the movie in total limbo. It seemed like it was stuck in the limbo of the bankruptcy of the company, when instead what apparently happened is that final cut eventually went back to EP Martin Scorsese, who gave it back to Alfonso Gomez-Rejon the director, who went in and recut the film, added a couple of scenes and a new score and got the film ready to come out this year. So now it comes out this year, and I’m ready for it to be pretty good, even if the initial luster of it has gone away after two years of sitting on the shelf. And man… did this just not work. The story wasn’t interesting at all. And I don’t know if that’s because it never was or because they had to recut it to make it feel different from the Toronto version. but the script was on the Black List, which I know doesn’t amount to all that much a lot of the time, but with the cast you had to think there was something that attracted them to the project. It feels like one of those movies that they realized didn’t quite come together so they paced it up and tried to make it move to overcome how boring it is, when the pacing wasn’t really the problem in the first place. Oh well, it didn’t work. Shit happens. I’m sure most people won’t ever care about this, but this does go down as one of the bigger disappointments of the past couple of years for me personally. I really was hoping for something great with this.
Daniel Isn’t Real — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Horror film based on the premise of: what if your imaginary friend from childhood came back and was actually evil? That’s it. To it’s credit, it’s not as much a horror film as I’d have expected, but also… I didn’t really need the whole ‘but you were also kinda crazy the whole time and I’m just a manifestation of you’ thing. It was uneven to the point of me losing interest in it pretty early. Horror isn’t for me in general, so it takes a lot to get me interested. This one just didn’t do it for me. Though it did feel better put together than most of the horror stuff I see. So maybe some horror fans will get something out of this.
Dark Waters — * * * * (4 stars)
This is such an old-fashioned kind of movie that I don’t see enough of anymore. This is a straight legal drama. Class action kind of legal drama. It’s more serious than an Erin Brockovich, but it’s very much of that vein. Company openly poisoning people and getting away with it and lying about it and a lawyer comes in to hold them accountable. It’s a great movie. Todd Haynes directed it, and this does not feel like a Todd Haynes movie. But it’s just as solid as all his other ones. It just doesn’t have the same flavor as his others. The man who made Far from Heaven and Carol… this isn’t like those. It’s the most mainstream thing he’s done. But it’s really good. One of the single most underrated movies of the year and the year isn’t even over yet. I just know this won’t get the audience it deserves. For whatever reason. But Mark Ruffalo is fantastic in it. And Bill Camp is fantastic in it, as the farmer who gets the whole ball rolling. This is one of the best films of 2019 and it just speaks to how great legal dramas always are.
The Day Shall Come — * * * (3 stars)
Very weird satire. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but a lot of the humor didn’t translate. It’s about a poor preacher in Miami who talks about uprisings and all this sort of stuff, which eventually makes him a target of the FBI, who basically decide to bankroll his schemes to the point of making him a terrorist just so they can arrest him and look good. And none of it ever comes together. The comedy just doesn’t come together and mostly you’re just watching a lot of weird shit being done in the name of satire. It’s no Wag the Dog, I’ll say that. Probably admirable, but the result is just kind of meh.
The Death and Life of John F. Donovan — * * * (3 stars)
Xavier Dolan film. He was a real up and coming filmmaker for a while. People loved Mommy. But then he had the movie about the dying guy, which didn’t really go over, and now this, which really didn’t go over. The film takes place during two time periods. In one, Kit Harrington is a TV actor on a hit show who is struggling with… well, you find out over the course of the movie. Meanwhile, Jacob Tremblay is a huge fan of the show and writes fan letters to Harrington, which Harrington always responds to. So he’s got this secret correspondence with him that eventually comes out and becomes a huge story. Meanwhile, in the present, Thandie Newton is a ‘proper’ journalist who is assigned to cover this puff piece with adult Tremblay as an actor who wrote a book about his correspondence with Harrington. The cast does what they can to make this interesting, but ultimately it doesn’t amount to anything. There’s no point to this movie, and it acts as though there is. So, while I’d say maybe you want to see it for a performance or two, I didn’t really care about this one in the end.
The Death of Dick Long — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Really fun and fucked up little backwoods noir. A bunch of friends hang out and drink one night, and then all of a sudden we find out that one of them died. And the next day we follow both the guys, as they try to cover their tracks and distance themselves from what happened, the cops, as they try to figure out who this dead guy is and what happened to him, and the medical staff, who slowly start figuring out what the cause of death is. And, let’s just say… the cause of death is the reason you’re watching the film. I had it spoiled for me long before I saw the movie, so it didn’t have the impact it maybe should have, but it’s still a weird little movie. It’s directed by one of the Daniels, who did Swiss Army Man, so you can guess the kind of movie/humor you’re in for. I’m a fan of this, just because it’s one of those films that exists in the sideshow of cinema. I remember weird stuff like this better than I remember generic mainstream thrillers and things.
Diego Maradona — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Documentary by the team that did Senna and Amy about the soccer star. It’s, as you can imagine, very well put-together, and shows how talented this dude was but also just how much cocaine he did. There’s literally a point where he says, “I’d have a game on Sunday, and then afterward I’d go out and party. Which would last until Wednesday. Then I’d detox on Thursday and get ready for the next game.” That’s fucking crazy. And this dude was great. Dude played in four World Cups, won one and was really close to winning a second. It’s a great documentary about one of the great athletes of the past 30 years.
Dilili in Paris — * * * (3 stars)
French animated film by the director of Tales of the Night. It’s about a young girl in turn-of-the-century Paris who goes around investigating a mysterious group that is abducting young girls. It’s… weird. The animation style is nice, but the plot is very strange. I’m fine with the movie because it was nice to look at, but the plot was very primitive. The dialogue (which I’ll admit might just be because of the English translation I saw) is very simplistic. But, it’s watchable.
Doctor Sleep — * * * (3 stars)
The initial feeling when I heard about this project was, “Why would you make a sequel to The Shining?” And then I figured, “Okay, King wrote the book, so they’re just adapting that… fine” But Mike Flanagan… I really am not a fan of him as a director. I’ve not liked anything I’ve seen from him. So him directing this didn’t do much for me. It felt like a Netflix movie, like all the other generic and forgettable King adaptations we’ve been getting. But, they said this was gonna go theatrical and in November. Which seemed kinda bold for something I knew wasn’t gonna be good. And lo and behold… it wasn’t good. It just felt like a jumbled mess that didn’t tell its story particularly well (and I know part of that is on King, whose novels tend to be sprawling anyway), where you didn’t care about any of the characters, were forced to watch these villains who have no real motivation or anything going on, and then he goes and forces The Shining onto it, with CGI Scatman, CGI Shelley Duvall and (god help us all) CGI Nicholson. Apparently the book doesn’t go near the Overlook, but he forced it into the third act just to get it in there. Which… you can’t tell a bad Shining sequel and then look to The Shining to make your movie okay. So yeah, I’m very disappointed in this movie and actively disliked it in a lot of ways.
Dolemite Is My Name — * * * * (4 stars)
Yeah, buddy. I love Scott and Larry’s biopics. They wrote Ed Wood, People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon, Big Eyes and People vs. OJ. They write these offbeat biopics that are always fantastic. So when I heard they were doing this with Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore, I was 100% in. I knew it would be great. And they got Craig Brewer to direct, which was fantastic to me, because he had a great early start to his career with Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan before going mainstream with Footloose and then sort of being forgotten for a while. So I’m glad to see him back in the mix. This is just a joy of a movie. The tone is fun, it’s got that ‘misfits making a movie together’ tone. Something like a Bowfinger or, for you young people with no concept of older movies, The Disaster Artist. It’s just fun as hell and one of those movies that’s best seen in a big audience where you can laugh at everything. Murphy is great, the entire cast is great and the writing is top notch. Just one of the better movies of the year. I’m actually kinda glad this one went on Netflix because it was never gonna make a lot of money in a theater, so this way more people who might not have went to it otherwise can go see it. And Eddie Murphy can come back as a real actor after all those years of kids movies and get back to great material again.
Don’t Let Go — * * * (3 stars)
Ever see the movie Frequency? With Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel? Guy somehow is able to talk to his dead father via CB radio and both uses his father’s help to solve a cold case murder while also trying to find out how to prevent his dad from getting killed? Well, this is a version of that. David Oyelowo is a police detective whose niece and her parents get brutally murdered one night. Then a few days later, he gets a call from his niece. And he can’t figure out what it is or why this is happening, but he has the ability to talk with her a few days before her death. So now he’s using that time to try to keep her alive while also finding out who did it. It’s a really interesting thriller. It’s not the greatest, but it does generally work. I love the premise a lot, and while I would ultimately tell you to go watch Frequency instead, I think this is way better than most of the crap that came out this year. This is a really solid movie.
Downton Abbey — * * * (3 stars)
Never watched the show once. Though I have seen Gosford Park, which is basically the show, save maybe that murder mystery that happens in the last half of Gosford Park. Though maybe that’s part of it too. This is one of two movies I saw this year that were based on a TV show I’ve never seen. This one was exactly what I was expecting it to be — people in costume doing period British stuff. The King and Queen are coming to stay at Downton, so the entire staff and family are making preparations… and it’s that kind of movie. I’ve seen this film before in some form, and it’s totally fine. I suspect fans of the show are gonna be more into it than non fans. But it’s fine. Totally fine.
Earthquake Bird — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Interesting movie. Nice little change of pace for Wash Westmoreland, after some intimate character pieces like Still Alice and The Last of Robin Hood. This one’s a sort of thriller. Alicia Vikander is an American living and working in Japan who starts a relationship with a Japanese photographer while also having to ‘befriend’ Riley Keough, another American in Japan who, unlike Vikander, doesn’t know the language and can’t really fend for herself. And the whole film is structured around Vikander being questioned in the disappearance of Keough by police. It’s solid. Can’t say I loved it, but it’s well-shot (it looks pretty great, even for Netflix), Vikander is very good, Keough is good and the film is just interesting. It won’t change your life, but if you’ve seen Westmoreland’s other work, this is of that ilk. Just a very solid film with good performances.
Echo in the Canyon — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Music documentary about the Laurel Canyon rock scene in the 60s and all the famous groups that came from there, like the Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas — basically if you’re a fan of any of that music, you want to watch this documentary. It’s awesome.
The Edge of Democracy — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Documentary about all the political turmoil in Brazil over the past couple of years. I generally don’t do well with political stuff, so this wasn’t for me at all. I just get bored with this kind of stuff. Don’t listen to me about whether or not it was good. I’m almost always gonna be disinterested in stuff like this.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Let me start by saying I’ve never seen a minute of Breaking Bad. Not even really a clip of Breaking Bad. I’ve seen nothing of the show except maybe a couple of gifs that people use as memes. So I have zero frame of reference for anything this movie is trying to do. And from what I’m gathering, the bulk of the action takes place after the show ends, with flashbacks that happen during the show but in between the stuff we’ve seen. Okay, cool. So basically Aaron Paul’s character is on the run, and is trying to get to safety. So he’s flashing back to shit that happened to him to find things that can help him get out (like hidden money and stuff like that). Honestly, I enjoyed it. I’m sure that means I’ll eventually like the show, should I ever watch it, but I’m not holding my breath on that one anytime soon. I just felt engaged by most of it, and all the parts I didn’t like I chalked up to being show stuff that maybe I’d have liked more if I understood what they were referring to. Mostly I loved the idea of Robert Forster’s character and everything going on there. That stuff was great. But yeah, really well done, solid movie that worked for me despite never having seen the show. A movie based on a show should contain the vibe of the show itself, so I’m guessing that fares better for this show than it does for Downton Abbey, another show whose movie I also watched this year without having seen it and just kind of came out indifferent on.
Eli — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Shitty horror-thriller about a kid that’s in a house where they’re supposedly finding a cure for the autoimmune disorder he has, but, turns out… some shady shit is going on! It’s not interesting at all, even though Kelly Reilly does what she can as the mother to try to make it work. It takes a turn in the third act that could have been interesting, if the rest of the movie were better. Otherwise, just kind of meh all around and one of the most generic Netflix movies out there.
Falling Inn Love — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Netflix rom com that was 100% greenlit based on its title. It’s such a strain of a pun that I kind of respect it. You had to write a plot around that. Which is about a career woman who magically wins an inn in New Zealand (as you do) and decides to go fix it up and resell it, all on the eve of getting that big promotion she really wants and potentially getting engaged to her businessman boyfriend who she’s been dating for a suspiciously long time without getting engaged to before now. You know everything this movie is gonna do before it does it and it’s barely tolerable. If you love this shit, you might get something out of it. For most people, this is forgettable bordering on unbearable.
The Fanatic — * * * (3 stars)
Oh, baby. This is that movie with John Travolta and the mullet, playing the dude with Asperger’s. Kind of like Misery if it were directed by Fred Durst. Which, by the way, this movie is. Directed by Fred Durst. Travolta is a dude with Asperger’s who is obsessed with movies and loves this shitty movie series starring Devon Sawa. And all he wants is to get his autograph. But because he’s socially inept (and this is a bad movie and people don’t ever notice what he’s got), things go awry, and short story, he kidnaps the dude in his own house. You know how it goes. This movie is gonna win every Razzie Award there is. It’s that kinda movie. It’s so easy to pile onto this. Because yes, it’s bad. But you know what? There’s a certain enjoyment one gets from a certain kind of bad movie. And this is one of those. Because you know what? For all its flaws… Travolta is trying here. And good for him. He seems to be relegated to these VOD movies, and at least he’s doing something that seems to fulfill him as an actor. It’s worth seeing for most people because it’s bad, but hey, it’s getting it seen, so there’s that, right?
Farming — * * * (3 stars)
I like when actors direct, and that’s how I found out about this movie. It’s written and directed by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and based on his own childhood, which is kind of intense once you find out what it’s about. The title refers to the practice of Nigerian families of paying British families to foster their children in the UK to give them more of an advantage at a better life. The family in question (led by Kate Beckinsale) is lower class and it’s like Miss Hannigan in Annie… they foster a bunch of kids and get help from the state for doing so. Meanwhile, he plays one of those kids who ends up being so bullied by a white supremacist group that he ends up joining them. It’s insane, and I had no clue that was part of his past. It really provides for an interesting story. Can’t say I loved the film, but it’s clearly very personal to him and you can see that in both the acting and writing. Ultimately, I’m glad I saw it.
Feast of the Seven Fishes — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I heard about this over the summer, and, knowing what it was about, spent about five months debating whether or not I’d watch it. Because, if you know what the title means — that’s basically the Italian tradition for Christmas Eve. You have fish on Christmas Eve. And, it’s tough for me watching Italian families on the screen, having grown up in one. It always feels embarrassing to me, because either stuff just feels cartoonishly fake, or it hits too close to home, because it’s cartoonishly real (there’s a fine line there). So I was thinking I might skip it, but it caught me on a good day when it came out and I gave it a shot. And man, am I glad I did. It’s based on a graphic novel, and it’s a coming of age story. It takes place in Pittsburgh, which is different. And it’s about a kid working at his father’s deli in a small town where all his relatives live, and they’re all gonna meet up at his grandparents house for Christmas Eve. The particulars are different, but it’s really damn close to my childhood in a lot of ways. But it plays out as part romance, as the guy is going around, dealing with his ex who he was with for all of high school and then starting a relationship with a new girl (who isn’t Italian. Or Catholic), and then you’ve got the family scenes with everyone interacting… the whole thing just felt laid back and authentic. I really had a good time with this one. It probably won’t do it for everyone, but I really liked it, and this is gonna be one I’ll show my family because I know they’ll get it. It’s just a really nice little movie. I definitely recommend it, and the closer this is to your family and your traditions, then it’ll be doubly worth it for you.
Fisherman’s Friends — * * * (3 stars)
Wonderful little throwback comedy. It’s about a guy who comes to a seaside town as part of a bachelor weekend with his friends, only to be left there as a joke. They all work for a record label and they tell him that he has to sign the local fishermen (who sing together for fun) to a deal. So he just wants to get the fuck out of there and doe what he can to sign them, but of course he meets a local single mother, and actually starts to believe in the group while falling in love with the town… you know all the places the narrative is gonna go. That’s not surprising at all. But the relationship between the fisherman and hearing them sing the songs is actually quite wonderful. And they’re a real group! Who doesn’t like a bunch of people getting together and singing sea shanties? The film is fine, but the feeling it gives you is just wonderful. It’s never gonna be a film I proclaim as one of my favorites, but I will always speak highly of this film.
Ford v Ferrari — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)
This is just old-fashioned classical Hollywood moviemaking. This feels like one of those movies from the 70s that everyone goes back to and just loves because it’s got everything you’d want. It’s well-directed, the performances are spot on, the editing moves and it’s just eminently watchable. That’s the best part about it. This’ll be a movie people go back to and, even if they’re conscious of loving it or not, it’ll be one that’ll come on TV and you’ll just watch it. Because it’s that kind of movie. And they really don’t make a lot of these. This is gonna be one of those movies you can just put on whenever and watch til the end. Those are always the best ones.
Fractured — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Netflix thriller that, on paper, reminded me of one of my favorite thrillers of all time, the movie Breakdown with Kurt Russell. The premise there is that he’s on vacation in Arizona with his wife and his car breaks down. So he sends his wife with a trucker to go call a tow at the rest stop they were just at. But then he fixes the problem and drives back to go get her. Only when he gets to the rest stop, no one there says they saw her since they left. So now he’s gotta drive around the desert and figure out what happened to his wife. It’s a great movie. I love it. This movie is kinda like that — Sam Worthington and his family go to a hospital after an accident where their daughter hits her head and gets a concussion. So they go to a hospital and they take her and his wife in for some tests. After a few hours, he asks where they are, but then suddenly no one at the hospital has any recollection of them whatsoever and they’re all trying to convince him that he’s crazy. So unlike Breakdown, where it’s a mystery, here, you basically boil the entire plot down to one or two strands: either he really is crazy and they don’t exist, or there’s a big conspiracy going on and everyone is lying. And when you do that, you’re basically just trying to figure out which one it is and nothing else in the plot really matters. And when the movie isn’t that good, you figure it out pretty damn early. So what I’m left with is a generic thriller that is not at all interesting whatsoever. So my review of this movie is — go watch Breakdown instead.
Framing John DeLorean — * * * (3 stars)
I heard about this movie first, if we’re daring DeLorean movies of 2019. But the first one I saw was Driven, with Lee Pace as DeLorean and is more about the con man that helped the FBI catch DeLorean in that room getting involved with the drug deal. And I quite enjoyed that movie. So then when this came around, I figured, “Why not?” This, though… much different film than that one. This one is a straight documentary, telling the story of DeLorean and his time making cars and how he set out on his own, that whole thing. Only the filmmakers decided that on top of talking about what happened, they’d do recreations of some of the scenes using real actors. So there are just moments in this of Alec Baldwin being fitted with makeup to play DeLorean and then acting out badly written scenes that were basically just described to us. They didn’t even just seamlessly work them in like a real film. We had to see them talk about them first. It’s a very strangely put-together film. You can tell documentarians made it, because the actors are not well-directed and the scenes feel stilted. They feel like a rehearsal and not a film being shot. This one just did not work for me, which is a shame, since the story it’s trying to tell is an interesting one.
Frozen II — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I’m so torn on this movie. Because on the one hand, I appreciate that they put zero effort into this sequel. This is Aladdin II or Lion King II, straight to video effort for a theatrical movie. Because they knew they could put it out and make a fuck ton of money. On the other… the first Frozen was really good. Overplayed and overhyped, sure. But it’s still a really good movie. And to see this sequel be this bad, is very concerning to me. Especially since now, Disney owns everything and doesn’t have to try anymore and seems to have, over the past three years, stopped caring about quality in the shameless pursuit of money. The live action remakes have grown to a fever pitch of mediocrity and all they’ve put out since Moana have been sequels. And they’ve both been awful. So I don’t know where I stand on this. As a movie, it was perfectly watchable, and decently entertaining. But as a Frozen sequel, it was very subpar. The songs weren’t very good, the story was pointless, no character really got any real development, and they didn’t even have the decent to just say Elsa is gay. It’s truly a straight-to-video level sequel that counts as part of Disney’s (until now) prestigious animated film canon. I am very disappointed in this movie.
Funan — * * * (3 stars)
Another adult animated movie about a family trying to survive during the Khmer Rouge. It’s very well made. Don’t really have a lot to say other than that it’s good and worth seeing if you go in for animated movies about serious topics.
Gemini Man — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Well this already has the stink of disaster to it. And on the one hand, I’m kind of okay with that, since it’s probably time for Will Smith to stop trying to be mega movie star and transition into just being ‘good actor who picks interesting projects’. But on the other, it’s kind of unfair for people to shit on this for trying to do something different. On the one hand, Ang Lee’s persistence with this high frame rate is starting to turn into Robert Zemeckis’ uncanny valley CGI he tried a bunch of in the 2000s. On the other, he is trying to forward the medium of motion pictures, and I feel like we should at least appreciate that aspect of it. The film is just a decent action-thriller. Will Smith is an aging assassin who wants to retire, and then finds out an exact clone was made from his DNA and has been sent to kill him. It’s got an interesting set up and is generally well-executed — what I liked about it was that because of the high frame rate, they couldn’t chop the shit out of it in editing. So it feels very classically shot. And I like that. Plus the narrative is allowed to breathe, and it’s not just set piece after set piece. So while it’s not gonna change cinema (and even the CGI isn’t that great. Some of those shots of digi-Smith are pretty laughably bad. Mainly the parkour stuff), I do like that they at least tried something and got a decently entertaining movie out of it. So I’m fine with this.
Girl on the Third Floor — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Horror (comedy? Maybe?) starring CM Punk about a guy who buys a house for him and his wife and unborn child and is determined to fix it up himself, without any help whatsoever. So he’s in this house, working on it all day, while his wife is back home, waiting for the baby to arrive. And then these weird supernatural things start happening (like semen coming from the electrical outlets… as is the case with every fixer-upper home), and pretty soon some evil entity is fucking with him. It’s supposed to be a metaphor for toxic masculinity, but it’s not well-written or directed or acted enough to really have any impact. Punk is one of those wrestlers who (not that I’ve really seen him perform there) has the chops to be good in that venue, but doesn’t seem to yet be cut out for movies. He does an admirable job with it, and you can see that he’s certainly trying. So I admired that from it. I just thought it was a schlocky movie that didn’t really do much of anything in the end.
The Goldfinch — * * * (3 stars)
Consider this 2019’s biggest disappointment for me. At least at the moment. John Crowley’s last film was Brooklyn, which was a major surprise for me in 2015 and remains one of my absolute favorite films of the entire decade. So hearing him doing this adaptation of a novel that, given the general synopsis and overlapping cast, gave me real Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close vibes, not that the plots are exactly similar. And Roger Deakins was shooting it. So that alone made me think, “Oh, this is gonna be really solid.” In no way would I have expected anything less than 3.5 stars out of this movie, and that was if it were really just not interesting. So I’m waiting for it to come out, and then it comes out quietly, no one really seems to care about it and the reviews are mixed. And then it seems like it’s about to completely disappear from theaters almost immediately and not be the Oscar contender I expected. Which meant that I had to rush to a theater to go see it or risk not seeing it until early 2020. And so I went… and no joke, I fell asleep. For almost an hour. I was that bored during it. I had to wait and (fortunately) get a copy of it later on and then watch the parts I missed. But man, what a huge disappointment this was. It just does not come together at all. None of it’s interesting. I don’t know what it is, but the movie just does not work at all. And honestly, that’s fine. But man, the expectations I had for this based on the people involved… this one really fell way below what I was expecting.
The Good Liar — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
It’s that Ian McKellen/Helen Mirren con artist movie. Bill Condon directs, and that made me interested in it, since the other two times he worked with Ian McKellen, we got Gods and Monsters (great) and Mr. Holmes (very solid). This is less solid than those, but generally pretty solid overall. Basically the idea is, he’s a con man who goes on a dating site, meets Helen Mirren and starts a relationship with her, planning to con her out of money by weaseling his way into her life and getting in on all her bank accounts and then taking all the money out and disappearing. It takes a while to get going and is kind of slow paced, but then it starts getting into the nitty-gritty of it all and suddenly becomes a completely different movie. And it felt like suddenly shifting gears like that just as it got interesting really took me out of it a bit. It’s fine and well done and all, I just felt like I didn’t need all the things it did in the third act. There’s a lot going on there. But overall, it’s watchable and worth seeing. Just don’t expect anything spectacular from it.
A Good Woman Is Hard to Find — * * * (3 stars)
Nice little movie. Sarah Bolger plays a widowed mother of two who is trying to make ends meet. One day, a guy who stole drugs from some criminals bursts into her house. And eventually he makes a deal to hide the drugs there in exchange for her getting a cut of them. So they have this uneasy alliance. But then, things go wrong one day, and pretty soon, she’s faced with having to make some tough decisions (oh, and she’s also trying to find the murderer of her husband as well). It’s… watchable. I enjoyed it for what it was.
Grand Isle — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Nicolas Cage VOD movie. He’s got 5 or 6 of them this year. This is one of the bad ones. It’s about a young guy who gets hired to fix Cage’s fence after he shoots an intruder on his property (which is never explained, really. Or maybe it is and I just couldn’t be bothered to care), and then gets involved in this weird relationship with Cage and his wife (who has a straight southern belle accent that’s just… yeah), and it’s just fucking bizarre. And then Kelsey Grammar is doing the Colonel Sanders accent as a police officer… not for me at all. I wanted crazy Cage. I got drunk and indifferent Cage. Oh well. Maybe the next one will be better.
The Great Hack — * * * (3 stars)
Documentary about the Cambridge Analytica Facebook scandal and how they used Facebook to gain access to user data and influence the 2016 election. The issue is a big one. I normally can’t watch stuff like this, but I found myself generally interested in some of it. Mostly in terms of how everyone just got away with lying about it all. I’m also not sure how we’re supposed to feel about the lead ‘whistleblower’, who seems more like an opportunist, jumping to the right side after helping the wrong one because it was clear the tide was turning that way. But you know, in the end, bad shit happened, nominally people got in trouble, but even now we’re still involved in a scandal involving all this stuff because Facebook is still doing shady and illegal things and lying about it. So, while I don’t necessarily love it as a documentary, it’s worth seeing just because it gives you an idea of how fucked we all are because these people have everything about us on file and are actively using it against us.
Greener Grass — * * * (3 stars)
What a weird fucking movie. So this is like if you took a soap opera, an SNL sketch and David Lynch and threw it all together. It’s completely surreal and absurdist, but everything’s also played so straight and dry. All the adults are wearing braces, one woman just gives her baby away to another woman at the beginning of the film… it’s just completely off the wall. It’s the kind of film that, tonally, you’d need to watch a trailer first in order to know if this is gonna be for you. I really didn’t think it was gonna be for me at all, and in a lot of ways it wasn’t, but I was just so weirdly fascinated by what the hell they were trying to make that I got through it okay. But I really don’t know how to recommend this for anyone. I don’t even really know what the hell it was.
Hala — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This is a wonderful coming of age story that must be based on the writer-director’s own childhood. Geraldine Viswanathan plays a Muslim high schooler struggles with her parents’ marriage starting to fall apart and her own… high school shit. Boys, and all that usual stuff. The lens of being from a strict Muslim family and dealing with the possibility of arranged marriage really makes this film separated from most other high school dramas. It’s a really strong film that, while it does have some obvious turns along the way, never fully goes into ‘obvious’ territory, and has some really strong acting in it. I definitely recommend this one.
Harriet — * * * (3 stars)
I knew this was gonna be the case, but it still doesn’t change the disappointment. This is not the Harriet Tubman movie we deserve. Hers is one of the most important stories in American history, and this movie just completely misses the point. It’s almost like an action movie! I don’t know if the writer just took the wrong track, or it’s what I suspect it is, which is the studio stepped in and said, “We need something we can sell.” And so they changed it. Because, while I like Kasi Lemmons and her movies, she’s not a filmmaker that gets to call all the shots. And I feel like the way this movie gets made properly is by having one of those directors. One who can say, “This is the story, and this is how we’re telling it, so give us the money and shut up.” It needs to be uncompromising to tell the story properly. Or it needs to be a miniseries. That’s the only way. And this movie… I’m afraid that the mediocrity of this movie is gonna prevent Harriet Tubman’s story from ever being told properly. And that’s really what upsets me the most about this.
Holiday in the Wild — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Netflix rom com that could double as a Hallmark movie. Kristin Davis is a woman whose husband divorces her the minute their child is out of the house, and then she goes on the second honeymoon she planned alone. Which is to an African safari, where she meets Rob Lowe, pilot who fucks all the lonely middle-aged women who come through. And… guess what happens?! It’s generic all the way through and it’s actually kind of scary how little they care about the quality of most of these things.
Holiday Rush — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Another generic Netflix Christmas movie. This one borders on almost decent. It’s about a radio DJ who gets fired right before Christmas and now has to move his spoiled family into his aunt’s modest house, while planning a way to get back on the air and stick it to his old station. You know everywhere it’s going, though it has a few interesting things in it, namely Darlene Love as his aunt. I’d say, of the Netflix Christmas movies (which exist on their own ratings scale), this one probably exists right around the median, which, for a regular movie, means it’s probably in the 40-45% percentile.
Honey Boy — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This is a word that gets thrown around a lot when it comes to Hollywood, always with the appropriate amount of derisiveness, but this is one time where I feel like it applies — brave. This is a very brave movie for Shia LaBeouf to make. It could have gone very wrong. But rather than being some kind of masturbatory exercise, this movie feels like therapy on screen. He’s really mining the depths of his soul for this one, and no matter what you think about the film as a piece of entertainment, it’s hard not to be impressed by what Shia is putting out there for everyone to see and judge. He plays his own father. He puts some really personal stuff out there for everyone to see and openly shows the flaws in his character. It’s… it’s something, man. It’s the kind of movie I respect the hell out of, but it’s gonna be hard to go back and watch this one in the future. The obvious comparison here to me is something like All That Jazz. Not since that can I think of such an obvious example of someone putting themselves out there, warts and all. That’s not to compare the quality of the films against one another, it’s just to say — you don’t see honesty like this on the screen all that often. So even if you can quibble about aspects of the film, which sequences don’t work versus others, you can’t help but respect the effort. This is really one of the better overall films of the year for that reason alone.
Hustlers — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Yup. The stripper movie. It’s weird how this got so well known and hyped. Because Lorene Scafaria’s previous two films… you know that meme of the one dude DJ’ing on the balcony and there are like, three guys down below who are the only ones going crazy for it? That was her fan base before this movie. I loved Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and I liked The Meddler. But this is a whole other thing. I’m not sure if she blew up from this, but the film blew up, and that’s so far beyond what I could have expected from it. They actually shot this into the year, so I didn’t even know I was getting this back in January. I’m curious to know what I’d have thought about it if it had. But either way — this movie is now so ubiquitous within the film landscape that it’s hard for me to be objective about the review. Because it’s solid. It’s an entertaining movie that does a good job with most of what it’s trying to do. On the other hand… it’s no Goodfellas. Which is what it’s trying to be and what people are comparing it to. It’s just not that movie. It’s a perfectly solid movie that has fun moments, but overall it’s just pretty good and not spectacular. Very solid, very fine, but not one of the best movies of the year.
I Lost My Body — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Solid animated film about a pizza delivery boy in love with a woman and his severed hand, which escapes from a lab and tries to make its way back to him. It’s a little arty, but the human parts are really strong. I understand what they were going for thematically with this, but I just wasn’t as interested in the hand stuff all that much. Overall, it’s a solid film and one of the better animated films of the year.
In Fabric — * * * (3 stars)
Weird fashion horror movie that is so A24. And British. But mostly A24. Basically… well, you know Velvet Buzzsaw? How the artwork is cursed and people just die from it? Well this is that, but with a dress. Someone buys a dress and bad shit happens to them. And then the next person gets the dress, and bad things happen to them. And we just sort of keep following that. And the problem I have with it is that it never feels motivated by anything. Like, totally innocent people get a hold of this thing and just get ruined and punished for it. There’s no sense of morality in it. It’s just horror for the sake of horror. And it feels pretty pretentious on top of all that. So yeah, it was watchable but it wasn’t for me at all. I have no idea what the purpose of any of this were, and unlike Velvet Buzzsaw, it didn’t have the benefit of crazy performances and an obvious critique of an industry to go alongside it.
In the Shadow of the Moon — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I had no expectations for what this movie was gonna be, and holy shit. I was riveted within twenty minutes. The best part about it is that I didn’t bother watching a trailer for this, so I didn’t know where it was going. It starts with Boyd Holbrook and Bokeem Woodbine as a pair of beat cops out on patrol for the night. Holbrook’s got a pregnant wife about to give birth any minute, and Woodbine’s got a family. And they’re just doing their thing. Meanwhile, a bunch of people all die in very similar ways, and all signs point to one mysterious suspect who seems to be committing mass murder, but no one’s sure how or with what or any of that. So Holbrook, an aspiring detective, piggybacks on the investigation (run by his brother-in-law, Michael C. Hall) and eventually finds himself chasing down this suspect. And it plays itself out (I won’t reveal how), and life moves on. And then, nine years later… it happens again. Same suspect. And that’s when the film turns into something completely different, and begins unraveling little by little and getting, in my mind, better and better as it takes you into a totally different realm from where you started. But I loved it. I loved where it went, how they handled it. Very minor quibbles about aspects of it, but by and large, this movie was terrific. It’s on Netflix, too, so anyone could just watch it at any time. But I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. I thought it was one of the best executed movies I saw this year.
In the Tall Grass — * * * (3 stars)
Stephen King Netflix adaptation. These are all watchable, but never that great. I think his move now is to put the lesser ones on Netflix and option the bigger ones for features. Anyway, this is a contained thriller about a couple who stops on the side of the road and hears voices coming from the cornfield, asking for help. So they step inside, and pretty soon they get separated and can’t find their way out. And of course there’s a supernatural presence inside, and some weird stuff is going on. Which could be a nice little thriller. But, because it’s King, there’s some evil spirit and a time loop and all this shit that I just didn’t care about. The deeper I got into the movie, the less I cared. So in the end it’s just another whatever Stephen King movie, going into the pile with almost all the other ones that are exactly the same.
The Irishman — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)
I need to see this again to get my true feelings on it. And I will do that in the next ten days. But I saw this in theaters. Sat through all three and a half hours of it. They gave me a set of lobby cards for my troubles. I sat in this with a nearly full theater. And I tell you… less than 5% of the people in it got up to pee during those three and a half hours. Which must say something. I think the fact that a lot of people put this on their TV might have skewed the opinions of this one. Yes, it’s three-and-a-half hours long. Yes the pacing is very lax, yes there’s five minutes of people discussing frozen fish, yes the de-aging looks shaky at times. But you know what? It’s still a Martin Scorsese movie. And for everyone that’s gonna talk shit about it now, they’re gonna be watching it like all the others in ten years. That’s how this works. And I feel like I know better than to just dismiss this based on what critics or whomever is saying about it. My job is to have my own damn opinion. And having watched this in a theater for all 209 minutes of it… I liked it a lot. Is it the best movie Scorsese’s ever made? No. But the dude’s made like five masterpieces. What it is, is him getting the band back together one last time. And for that alone, I respect it. I think it’s a great piece of work that feels sort of like his Cheyenne Autumn. (If you don’t get that reference, maybe look into it before casting strong opinions bout this film.) I think there’s an elegance to this, and I think that it might be saying some stuff that maybe it’s not even intending to say. And I think that’s what’s gonna endure here, thematically and as a piece of Scorsese’s career, is that we have this history of Scorsese and De Niro and Pesci, and it just feels like a culmination of all these guys’ careers as they reach their later years. I still need to see it again, but I think all the negative stuff against this one is overhyped.
It Chapter Two — * * * (3 stars)
The first movie constitutes a surprise. I just didn’t expect it to be good. And what made it good is that they focused on the human drama and not the horror. All the horror came from you caring about these characters. And that clearly was a byproduct of Cary Fukunaga being the original voice behind it. But then they hired Andy Muschietti, who is more of a studio horror filmmaker. But the movie turned out great. However, that gave me little hope that they’d be able to land this one as successfully. And honestly, while the casting is very good… the actors don’t get anything interesting to do. People jumped through hoops to overly praise the actors (specifically Bill Hader, who is really just the comic relief to what is otherwise a mediocre movie), but the movie’s just not worth of them. It’s a generic studio horror movie that is more interested in the ‘scary’ sequences than actually giving the characters human journeys that they had in the first film. So while I can’t say I’m surprised, I am very, very disappointed in this, because that first one was one of the few legitimately solid Stephen King adaptations that’s ever been made (which is a very short list. At best most of them are watchable, but very rarely are they actually good).
Jay & Silent Bob Reboot — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I grew up on Kevin Smith movies. When I was 13, that was what I watched. Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, the first Jay and Silent Bob movie. I watched the shit out of those movies. And I like is 2000s stuff. And then it feels like comedy outgrew him, in a way. And then he went off and became a different filmmaker and I just wasn’t totally on board with it. He seems to be more about his own brand now than anything else. So I got a bit worried when I saw he was gonna make this. I hoped I’d enjoy it like I enjoyed his previous films, but knowing where he’s been the past decade, I was worried about it being a huge disappointment. And honestly… he got me back right quick. It’s not great. Most people will dislike this movie, and I understand that. But you can see that he’s still got a knack for being funny. The ratio isn’t as good as it used to be, and now he’d rather wink at the audience and placate his fan base more than anything else. And you know what? That’s fine. Jimmy Buffet does that, and he’s fucking rich. So I won’t begrudge him that. I got what I needed to out of this film, which is that Kevin Smith still has the ability to be funny. And you know what? There’s a heart to this movie that’s nice. Do I like it as much as the earlier stuff? No. It’s not as good and I’m not gonna pretend like it is. But it reminded me of how much I like his earlier stuff, which I did sort of put away for a while as I ‘grew up’ as a movie fan. So it’s nice to be reminded of that time in my life when those movies were so important to me.
Jojo Rabbit — * * * * (4 stars)
I had absolutely zero doubt that I was gonna love this movie. I love Taika Waititi’s sense of humor and I’ve loved his previous three films and I just knew this was gonna be something terrific from the jump. Plus the idea that he was playing Hitler… perfect. I didn’t even know what this movie was about past the boy having Hitler as his imaginary friend, and I got something that was so much more than I could have ever expected. The whole story with Thomasin McKenzie and the kid, plus the mother-son story, plus the larger story with all the other characters… this movie is incredible. It’s funny, it handles drama really well… it’s got that one moment that completely pulls the rug out from under you at the drop of a hat, which… if a movie can pull off that moment, it’s a good movie. I really loved this one and I can’t wait to see it again.
Joker — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I… have very mixed opinions on this. On the one hand, I wish I could discuss this as a pure achievement. Because they took a superhero character and made a human drama with it. Joaquin Phoenix plays a dude with problems who just happens to live in Gotham City and just happens to become The Joker. And Todd Phillips makes it a grounded, 70s-style thriller, with impeccable cinematography and utter realism. And that automatically makes it better than most superhero movies that have ever been made because it’s not wasting time on effects and set pieces and bigger universes but rather just telling this story with these people. And now, of course, the film itself isn’t perfect. The third act with him on the talk show, bursting out onto the streets didn’t do it for me (also, how big of an ask is it to buy De Niro as a talk show host? I know they did it for the King of Comedy angle, but man… that’s not the right casting on a pure actor level), but a lot of the early stuff worked. But, unfortunately, I can’t just discuss this as an achievement, because this film has become the mating call for the incel. All the angry white dudes on the internet came out of the woodwork for this movie, and have elevated it to the status of something I just really don’t want to deal with in my life. I’m usually not someone who at all goes in for any of that stuff about movies — it normalizes violence, it’s this, it’s that — normally I’m the one going, “It’s just a movie.” This was one of the very few times where I saw it and went, “Are you guys sure you wanna do this?” Because it is something for all the wrong people to rally around. This is the kind of movie for the people who become… well, I won’t say what, but there’s a reason when I went to go see this, police officers were outside the theater. So, for whatever the praise anyone wants to heap on this film, you also have to accept that it’s at least moderately irresponsible as well. It’s a dude about a guy who lives with his mother in his 30s, feels ignored and disrespected by society, uses a public platform to espouse his views, much to the disdain of reasonable people, commits violence without repercussion and finds a group of like-minded people who view him as a martyr. If you don’t see how that can be a problem in today’s society, you might wanna rethink things. And like I said, that’s not normally me, but this one is so obvious about it that it turned me off. But, I can normally dissociate that from how I view the film. And I think, for the good things the film does do… it’s not that great. It’s just solid. It’s got narrative problems and it’s got other problems and a lot of where it’s going is really obvious early on (namely with that talk show ending and with the whole Zazie Beetz thing). So it’s fine, but unfortunately I’ve been put in a position where I have to say negative things about it just because of all the people talking way too highly about it.
Judy — * * * (3 stars)
Renée Zellweger Judy Garland biopic about the last days of her life. It’s… fine. I didn’t love it. It felt pretty by-the-numbers to me, down to the performance. It’s one of those movies that people say they like because it’s made to get that reaction. It looks like a duck, so we’re gonna treat it like a duck. I don’t know… I didn’t really care all that much. It felt like it was trying too hard and was just fine and nothing more.
Jumanji: The Next Level — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
The first Jumanji was one of the biggest surprises of the decade for me. I loved that first movie. It was so fresh and entertaining and really made me realize just how great Jumanji is as a concept. It was so good that I didn’t even have reservations about them going back for a sequel. Because one, of course, and two, it was so good that even if this one had a substantial drop off, the result would still be totally fine. So what they do with this one is just give you more. But not in the obvious way of crazy set pieces. It’s actually not that insane in terms of stuff like that. There’s the mandrills on the bridges and the ostrich stampede, but other than that it’s all pretty manageable. And they switch up the characters, more so than you think they’re gonna, which is nice. They do give this one legitimate character development too, which is nice. Maybe they gloss over a thing or two that maybe they shouldn’t and maybe they spend a bit too much time on stuff they shouldn’t, but overall, it’s fun. And the joy of the franchise is watching these actors (The Rock, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and Jack Black) do impressions of the actors playing them. Plus the whole ‘we know we’re in a video game and have to play it’ convention. It’s definitely a lesser sequel, but it’s a solid sequel. And even if they keep going downhill from here or maintain this level of quality throughout, at least this one gave us The Rock doing Danny DeVito, which is worth the price of admission alone.
Kill Chain — * * * (3 stars)
Nicolas Cage VOD paycheck movie. He plays the owner of a bar who gets involved in some shady shit when two hitmen come in looking for a woman. Meanwhile there’s this other story of another hitman on a job, and then there’s the woman, and of course all the stories are gonna end up intertwined by the end. It’s watchable, but not good. If you like these cable-quality crime movies as I do, you’ll get something out of it, but it’s not really particularly any good. Cage’s 2019 output is forgettable at best and if the best of them are at most watchable, at worst bad, this one is probably middle of the road for that scale.
Killerman — * * * (3 stars)
New York crime thriller with Liam Hemsworth and Emory Cohen. Cohen is the (fuckup) nephew of a Russian gangster who wants his own personal score and Hemsworth is a diamond seller who is into some shady stuff. They go out on a deal that ‘can’t miss’ according to Cohen, and of course, shit goes wrong and by the next morning, Hemsworth has absolutely no memory of anything. So now, he’s got no memory, a bunch of money, drugs and dirty cops on the lookout for him. It’s… fine. Might have been better if what they tell us in the third act happened earlier so at least we could have an added layer of suspense to it. But hey, they made their choice. So I’d say this is a slightly more than average thriller that is on more solid ground than most others of its ilk, but still doesn’t really amount to anything more than just okay.
The Kill Team — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
If there’s one subgenre of movies I really just do not go in for, it’s Iraq War movies. They bore the hell out of me 90% of the time. And this is another one of those. This, ultimately, is less about the war as much as it is corruption amongst soldiers. But still. It’s about a platoon, led by Alexander Skarsgard, who wantonly kill innocent civilians and cover it up. And it’s about one of the soldiers who faces the dilemma of whether or not to say something, especially when he’s gotta be in battle with these guys and could easily be killed by them at any time and have it claimed that it was accidental. So it gets some tension out of those moments, but mostly you’re just left with a movie that doesn’t at all do much of anything interesting. And maybe some people will find it more interesting than I did, because as I said — I don’t like these movies. But I just feel like there’s a whole section of this movie where stuff happens that’s just missing from it.
The King — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Boy, was I not expecting this one. I knew it was David Michod and I knew it was based on Shakespeare’s Henry plays, but I was expecting that — Shakespeare. It seemed like a weird choice for Michod, but as soon as I started watching the movie, I got it. Because what they did was tell the Shakespeare story (which is basically just history anyway) but took out the dialogue. So it’s just a straight drama about a king coming into his own. And it fucking works. Really well. This is Michod’s best film since Animal Kingdom. It’s fantastic. Timothee Chalamet is great as Hal/Henry, Joel Edgerton (who co-wrote the film) is great as Falstaff, Robert Pattinson is terrific as the king of France. And you’ve got Ben Mendelsohn and Thomasin McKenzie and Lily Rose-Depp… the cast is all really strong. And like I said, Shakespeare is brilliant. But the dialogue is very much for the stage and does’t really allow you to do much interesting stuff on screen. But if you boil the dialogue down to the important elements, you really see the strength of the stories he was telling. This is a really great movie that should be seen.
Klaus — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I really did not expect this to be good. Netflix animated movies typically feel and look cheap, and the stories are poorly written. Plus, this being about the origin of Santa Claus, I really expected this to be generic and forgettable. So imagine my surprise when I found myself really enjoying this. The story took me a bit to get into, but there’s a core here that’s really sweet. It’s about the son of a guy who owns post offices who is content to just sit on his family’s money. So his father tells him he has a year to start a post office at the most northern area of the map (essentially the North Pole) or else be cut off. So he goes up there, and there’s feuding families and no one writes letters or gives a shit. But then he finds a way through the old woodsman in town who lives alone and everyone thinks is a murderer to get kids to send letters. It’s cute. It’s very well done, and I ended up liking it so much more than I ever expected it to. Big thumbs up for me on this one.
The Knight Before Christmas — * * * (3 stars)
I don’t know what it is, but I find that of all the Netflix Christmas movies, I seem to enjoy these Vanessa Hudgens ones the best. The one she did about the princess twins — that was fine. This one is based solely on a pun, but is also surprisingly charming. It’s a Kate and Leopold situation. Or rather… of shit, what was that movie with Jean Reno. Just Visiting! With Christina Applegate! Basically, a knight is sent to the present day (they don’t even bother explaining why and it happens in like, the first three minutes of the movie. You just sort of go with it) and then Vanessa Hudgens is a single schoolteacher who meets and falls in love with him. And most of the film is him learning how modern society works and bringing out the good in everyone. You know what you’re getting. Honestly, while I tend to hate most of these kinds of films, I found this one decently charming. I suspect that most people still won’t care for this, but hey, if you’re gonna go for one of these movies, this isn’t a bad one to try.
Knives Out — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)
Why does it feel like Rian Johnson can never catch a break? Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper. All amazing and yet he never quite got the right audience at the right time. And then he makes Last Jedi and just gets shat on for trying to do something different. And now this comes out, and while fortunately everyone knows about this movie… it feels like it’s not gonna get its proper due for a few years, just like all his other ones. This movie is great. It’s an old-fashioned murder mystery that could have been a Hercule Poirot or something similar. It’s wonderful. The cast is great, especially Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer and Daniel Craig, but the rest of them are all really good as well. It’s impeccably written and edited and really should be among the best films of the year. This feels like a movie that’ll be a consensus top ten for a lot of people, because it’s just damn good.
Knock Down the House — * * * (3 stars)
Documentary about all of the people who banded together to ‘take back’ the House of Representatives in the wake of the 2016 election. And it wasn’t so much that as much as it was the notion that politics have gotten stale and so many people representing people weren’t really representing them, because they were in office for too long, got comfortable, took corporate money and stopped fighting for the things they should be fighting for: their constituents. The documentary follows a few people vying for local races, but of course the star of the film ends up being Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who for a lot of younger, cynical people who have given up on the government ever working ‘properly’ again, instills a lot of hope that maybe the ideals of the political system may once again start to be realized. And for that reason, this documentary did fill me with a lot of hope. If anything, I think it’s one of the most important documentaries of the year because it shows two things: how bad the generational gap is in politics (which isn’t even beginning to get into the partisan divide of it all, both of which prevent anything productive from getting done because one side is always dragging its feet and doing their best to prevent the other side from doing anything, even if it’s in the best interests of both sides) and how older politicians are only about self-preservation over actual change and improvement, and really, more importantly, it shows that anyone can affect change. Anyone can do it. And I think that’s an important lesson for young people to learn, especially those who come from constantly underprivileged and disenfranchised backgrounds, or who have committed the cardinal sin in American politics: be a woman. I’m rarely one to say that I love documentaries about politics, and as a straight film, this was just fine to me. But what it represents was something I quite liked and I think it’s something I would wholeheartedly recommend to people as something that does potentially give hope in an era where everything is corrupt and we’re slowly being gaslit into an Orwellian dystopia.
Lady and the Tramp — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I’ll start as I always do with all the live action Disney remakes (of which there are three this year) — they don’t need to exist, and are purely just money grabs. This one they put out with Disney+, so at least we were spared a big theater campaign. But, I will say, maybe it’s the low stakes of this having been put out on a streaming service… I had fun with this. It was kinda charming. It’s got that Homeward Bound kinda charm, where they just put real animals there and have actors do the voices over the top. And you know what? It mostly works. Not gonna say it’s amazing, but it’s the story you remember from the 1955 version, albeit tweaked to have more women and less racism (sorry guys, no Siamese cat song here). I’m totally cool with what they did. It’s not great, but it also doesn’t feel like they spent a shit ton of money on it. It’s period, it’s contained, it feels like a TV movie version of the film, honestly. And that made me more okay with it than, say, Aladdin. Plus F. Murray Abraham plays the owner of the Italian restaurant who gives them the meatballs, which is just awesome.
Last Christmas — * * * (3 stars)
So this one’s pretty notorious already, huh? You kind of saw it coming from that first trailer. Which, if you were paying attention, kind of gives away the game of what the movie’s gonna be. (Which, also… they tell you what it’s based on, so you should really have seen it coming anyway). But, it got atrocious reviews and is really just being talked about as one of the absolute worst pieces of trash ever. But honestly? I didn’t get that from it. I went to a theater to see it because I just thought, “This is gonna be awful and entertaining.” And it was entertaining… but it wasn’t that awful. I mean, yes, the movie is not good. I’m not the biggest Paul Feig fan in the world, but when all was said and done… I enjoyed this more than I enjoyed Bridesmaids. And almost all his other movies (save Spy. Spy is really funny). To me, the entertainment gotten out of a ‘bad’ movie is greater than just a bad movie. I enjoyed the weird campiness of it all. And, honestly, I thought it was pretty decently written. Which is because Emma Thompson wrote it and a lot of the dialogue feels like she wrote it. And it’s got moments that are pretty funny, even if you think you’re laughing at them for the wrong reasons. Plus, if nothing else, this movie features Emma Thompson not only singing in Ukrainian, but also saying the words “I will nail you to my dick.” So there’s that.
Late Night — * * * (3 stars)
I got sold a bill of goods on this one. I didn’t expect much out of it when I heard about it in January. Given the cast and who made it, I knew exactly what I was getting out of this. And then people started saying how amazing it was, how great Emma Thompson was in it (which, spoiler alert: she’s that great in everything. You just don’t bother to watch most of it)
The Laundromat — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Steven Soderbergh movie about The Panama Papers. When I heard he was gonna make this and it was gonna have Gary Oldman and Meryl Streep, I thought, “This is gonna be amazing!” And then when I saw it, I realized he wasn’t making that kind of movie. It’s very much trying to be a Big Short kind of movie, that uses a narrator talking to you and explaining why everything that happened is illegal, mixed with actual scenes within the story. Though those are all sort of vignettes rather than a building narrative. Meryl plays a woman whose husband dies in a boating accident while on vacation, and she starts slowly figuring stuff out when she doesn’t get her life insurance payout. And there are other stories, which are fun. Overall the tone doesn’t work as well as it does in The Big Short, and that’s kind of a disappointment. Because I thought we were getting a real narrative film out of this. The result is fine, but… and I almost never say this about Soderbergh, this is actually a bit of a disappointment for me. Mostly because my expectations were probably too high, but still. Plus, the ending… it’s a bold ending for a film that’s so uneven. I feel like this movie aims high and only occasionally actually gets there. Which is fine. It’s watchable, but I’m just not sure the tone worked out for them.
Let It Snow — * * * (3 stars)
Ensemble YA movie that takes place at Christmas. Kids in a small town, the usual thing. It’s fine. Ensemble movies are usually watchable, and this one is exactly that. The stories are the usual high school stuff, you know where all of them are going, but they’re all fine. The cast all seem game and all are likable. Nothing to overly dislike here, even if the result isn’t overly special either.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Fantastic documentary. Linda Ronstadt is one of those singers… okay, so she’s just before my time. And by that I mean, I didn’t really grow up in an era where she was super famous, and her music wasn’t something I heard on the radio a lot. But I always was aware of her, though I just never really felt her presence in my musical life. But holy shit. Talk about a voice. That woman can belt. And I didn’t realize just how great she was. So this documentary gives her some justice, not that she necessarily needed it, but it’s nice that she has it. I liked how she had all this fame but was still determined to try everything and do it her way, even when people said she couldn’t do it. That’s something any creative person should strive to do. I just really liked this one, and I wouldn’t have necessarily pegged this as something I’d automatically love going in. So I’m very happy about that.
The Lighthouse — * * * * (4 stars)
I have so many things I want to say about this movie, but all that seems to want to come out is, “Why’d you spill yer beans, Tommy?” This movie is just insane. I like that Robert Eggers had all the clout from The Witch and was like, “You know what? Let’s get weird.” I read an interview where he said the basis for this movie is, “Bad things happen when two men are trapped inside a giant phallus.” And that about explains it. It’s deliberately funny, which The Witch is not. The Witch isn’t even all that funny. This one, though… you’re allowed to laugh during this one. The farting in the first three minutes pretty much gives that away. But it’s just a wonderful, weird fucking movie. Willem Dafoe doing that old seaman/Mr. Krabs voice and Pattinson doing… whatever the hell Pattinson is doing, which is just wonderful. The two of them are just spectacular together. And the film is really just a fucking weird journey into… I don’t know. But it’s gorgeously shot in black and white, and the actors are tremendous and Eggers has a really sure hand in directing it. Of course, the movie is destined to end up a cult favorite, just because it’s so goddamn weird and off the beaten path that some people are gonna despise it. But that’s fine. I loved it. I won’t force it on people who think it’s too much for them, but I fucking enjoyed everything about this movie. This is exactly the kind of weird shit I like. Borderline pretentious, but not really. I think it’s more bait for pretentious people more than it’s pretentious. Which is fine. I just really like everything that’s going on in this movie.
The Little Mermaid Live — * * * (3 stars)
I typically love these live shows, and they don’t really have to do anything other than be done live for me to automatically give them all 3.5 stars, even if I don’t like the musicals they’re based on. I don’t give a shit about Rent, but I saw them do that live (well… mostly live, owing to one of the guys breaking his ankle like, a day before, which is fair) and enjoyed it. Jesus Christ Superstar, I’m generally positive on that one. But it was done live. And it was awesome. Grease is the gold standard for these live musicals. That was a real event. This one, I figured, had to be fun. Not if you fuck it up the way they did with this. So what they did with it was… they just started SHOWING the animated movie to a live audience. So you’re literally just watching The Little Mermaid, and then once in a while, when a song happens, the performers come out and do the song. Why not just do the live show? I mean, we get the story and we know how it works. Why would you do that? Unless Disney forced them to do that, in which case, why put it on in the first place if those are their demands? This is the first time I’ve felt embarrassed for the cast of one of these shows, because they didn’t get to be in a live show! So yeah, this is a low for ‘live’ shows and I hope we don’t get stuck with anything like this ever again. I’d rather they stop doing these if they can’t put them on properly and just have people performing live on a stage in front of an audience.
Little Monsters — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Great horror comedy. I enjoy movies like this. Anything with adults swearing around children, really. But this is fun. Lupita Nyong’o is a teacher bringing her kids on a field trip when some zombies break out of a military facility nearby and they become trapped in the gift shop of this fun park place. And that’s the film. It’s fun. Low budget horror comedy that generally works. It wouldn’t be amazing if they spent a bunch of money on it and released it everywhere, but for a small indie you knew nothing about, this perfectly meets expectations and is a fun little time.
Love Is Blind — * * * (3 stars)
VERY New York indie movie — I mean, it stars Matthew Broderick and Chloe Sevigny. How much more New York indie can you get? — about a woman with selective perception, who believes her mother died years ago even though she’s alive and well and she just can’t (or won’t) see her. Sevigny is the mother and Broderick is the father. And it’s about the girl having this weird romance with a suicidal dude she also can’t see, but who just kind of follows her around, getting to know her. It’s really the most indie shit ever. It was just okay. It has its moments. There’s good elements to it, but it’s just far too ‘Tribeca’ for me to really love it.
Low Tide — * * * (3 stars)
Fun little thriller. It’s a coming of age movie about a bunch of kids living on the Jersey Shore. They basically go around, robbing houses (little stuff) and hanging out, trying to get laid, that sort of stuff. Things you do when you live in a small town where there’s nothing to do. Oh, and it takes place in the 80s, too. Two of the kids (brothers) find some real treasure (bag of gold coins) and decide to hide it from their other friends, one of whom is that stereotypical dangerous kid who is clearly gonna end up arrested or dead one day because this is more than just innocent fun for him. But of course the kid gets wind of it, and… well, you know where this all goes. It’s got all the elements you would expect, but it is really solidly made. This is more of a solid 3 stars than others. I thought this was a well put-together movie that would give me hope for the director’s future work.
Lucky Day — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Written and directed by Roger Avary, the other half of the Pulp Fiction writing team, whose last directorial effort was Rules of Attraction 15 years ago. This is a movie like the ones he came up with, an action comedy that takes place over one day with a cast of colorful characters… it’s a movie you’d have called a Quentin knockoff in the 90s. But since he co-wrote the big Quentin movie that everyone ripped off, he gets a pass on that front. Though that still doesn’t excuse it from being way out of style. Crispin Glover plays a French hitman… it’s just dated type of moviemaking, and I know there’s a version of this that could bring the style back, but this movie doesn’t do it.
Lucy in the Sky — * * * (3 stars)
I thought I was getting Natalie Portman in space. Turns out I got Natalie Portman wanting to be in space. She’s in space in the opening and the rest of the film is her wanting to go back. To the point where it destroys her personal life and then she starts having an affair with a fellow astronaut. It’s based on a real woman and real events. And honestly, had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have been as excited for this as I was. Because I didn’t know what it was gonna be about. I wanted space. Here I got some weird drama that doesn’t really add up to anything much of a strong character study and gives me Natalie Portman with a distracting southern accent the entire time. Oh well. Hoped for better, got fair. It happens.
Luz — * * * (3 stars)
Very weird German horror film about a demonic spirit that is following a female cab driver around. The movie begins with the woman, after a crash, going into a police station and screaming. And then we follow this totally unrelated scene of a woman seducing a psychiatrist at a bar. Then you realize what’s going on, as the psychiatrist ends up at the police station to try to help the cab driver recall the events that led to her getting into the accident. It’s very short, only 70 minutes, and the visuals and plot are so weird and off the beaten path that it’s probably worthwhile for those who are into horror. It’s short enough that most people will get at least something out of it.
Maiden — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Great documentary about a woman who piloted the first all-female crew of an around-the-world boat race in 1989. It’s just a wonderful story that you watch and immediately know is gonna become a movie in the next five years. The story is perfect for the screen. And it’s just a really uplifting movie about a woman who doesn’t quite fit in normal society, decides she wants to race in this competition and says, “Why can’t I do it?” And it’s such a male-dominated sport that you have all the usual stuff along the way, people who won’t back them, people who don’t believe in them, the media treating them different from the male sailors. But you have these really great moments of empowerment along the way that it’s really quite wonderful to watch. It’s one of those movies young women should be shown, because it really does show you that there is a place in the world for everyone and that anyone, especially women (because the world seems to tell them more than anyone else otherwise), can accomplish anything they want to, even when everyone else says they can’t. It’s a beautiful film.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I didn’t really care about the first one, but at least that vaguely had a connection to Sleeping Beauty. This is a sequel to a remake that is told from the villain’s perspective but is also basically just a remake. So really, you’re just furthering a story that no one really ever asked for. It further makes Jolie not the villain, gives more CGI than one could ever ask for, and is just a completely generic movie. I’m sure some people will be fine with it, but this is the exact type of cinema that I cannot stand. I really disliked this movie.
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love — * * * (3 stars)
Documentary about Leonard Cohen and Marianne, his muse, who would inspire him to write some of his most famous songs. It’s interesting. I think it would have been more interested if I were more into Leonard Cohen. But I do like it as a portrait of the 60s and of a certain type of creative person. It wasn’t wholly lost on me.
Marriage Story — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I have to preface my review of every Noah Baumbach movie with this — I generally don’t like his stuff. I only have to do that for certain filmmakers. Namely Woody Allen. But clearly Baumbach wants to be Woody Allen in a lot of ways, so it’s fitting. Both are people whose films just normally do not work for me. The only Baumbach movie I legitimately really like is the one that feels most a byproduct of Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha). The rest I either think are solid but just okay, don’t care about or straight up dislike. Some of them I think are solid but still openly dislike. That’s just me with his stuff. So I had no real expectations for this to be something I liked. And the result is something I still don’t really dislike. Though I think what got me through this were the supporting parts. Alan Alda, Laura Dern and Ray Liotta. Those scenes worked for me. The other stuff was hit and miss. Though I do remember saying while watching it — finally a reason for Baumbach to have unlikable characters. Because that’s always the thing with him for me — none of his characters are likable. So I don’t want to root fo them or even watch them most of the time. And then if they are kind of likable, they’re all upper class New York intellectuals, which is not something that appeals to me at all. Plus, on top of all of that, the movie, while attempting to be a two-sided look at divorce, really comes out on the side of Adam Driver, doesn’t it? If he weren’t also so unlikable, then the movie would be about how selfish Scarlett Johansson is for wanting to have a life of her own. But, outside of good acting and being generally well-made, I didn’t really see anything in this other than a look at unlikable people going through a divorce. The most important thing to note about this movie to me is that Randy Newman scored it. Which means that he scored both a marriage story and a toy story in the same year. That’s range.
Mary — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
It’s a boat horror! I know they’ve been trying to make a horror movie about the ship from Dracula, where everyone died on it. This isn’t that, but this feels based on that. Gary Oldman is a sailor who makes his living taking people out fishing and on trips and stuff, and he and his family have saved up money to get a boat that he can call his own and not have to pay fees and stuff back to an employer. So he comes back with this boat (that’s not the one he was supposed to get) that we slowly find out is haunted, and has this weird supernatural presence on board that has caused all the previous owners to die or go mad at sea. It’s basically like The Shining at Sea. It’s not great. Pretty generic. Mostly you watch it and go, “Mortimer seems like she wanted to try her hand at horror and Oldman is just taking a paycheck and doing what he can to make the character actually have a pulse.” It’s not great, but if anyone’s gonna watch it, they’re watching it for the cast and nothing else.
Midway — * * * (3 stars)
How does Roland Emmerich keep getting these movies made? He’s one of those directors who is 20 years past his relevancy. The movies he makes are pure 90s movies and nothing else. He got into the 2000s, and Day After Tomorrow was cool, but by the time we got to 2012, it was clear that time had past. And he’s still making them! Independence Day 2, White House Down… the one thread through them all is that they’re just dated from the top down. This one most of all. It’s an ensemble war movie. A la Pearl Harbor. To his credit, he raised $100 million totally independently. But holy shit, man. This movie is just completely generic, covered in bad CGI and just generic to the hilt. No one should have expected anything else out of this, but what I don’t get is… who thought this was a good idea? Since when do movies promoting old military victories in today’s day and age mean anything to audiences? Even the people this is for are gonna think it’s bad.
A Million Little Pieces — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
It’s your typical ‘rehab’ movie. However, the cast and acting are strong, and that’s what makes it more than just the usual thing. It’s based on a memoir (that has since been proven to be highly-fictionalized) and stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson (and is directed by his wife, Sam Taylor-Johnson, her first film since the original Fifty Shades). He plays a dude who is beyond fucked up all the time and ends up sent on a plane to rehab. And the film is just him being angry all the time and not wanting to be there, until of course he comes around on it, and he meets a girl in the facility and then some other addicts… you’ve seen rehab movies before. You know what you’re getting. But the cast is good. Billy Bob Thornton, Giovanni Ribisi, Charlie Hunnam. There are good people in this. And the acting is strong, so that elevates it from just watchable to pretty solid, even if it treads ground you’ve seen before a bunch of times.
Motherless Brooklyn — * * * * (4 stars)
Edward Norton has been trying to make this movie for 20 years. And he’s only directed once before — Keeping the Faith, a wonderful movie that is one of the more underrated films of the 2000s. But he’s always struck me as an actor who is committed to quality in his films (often to the side effect of him not coming off so great in the process), and I’ve always really liked his choice of material. So him directing and starring in this is something I’ve been paying attention to for a while now. At least a decade. I’ve been waiting for this to actually get made. And I’m so glad it did. The film is… apparently the book it’s based on is a mystery/noir that takes place in the 90s. Which makes it feel kind of hipster-y and ironic, but what Norton does is take his central character — a detective with Tourette’s — and puts him in 1950s New York. And he invents this plot that revolves around (essentially) a real guy (called Moses Randolph in the movie but the real guy is Robert Moses) and the plot ties into (a la Chinatown) a larger conspiracy involving the building of a city. It’s quite wonderful. A lot of people think it’s not good because Norton’s Tourette’s detective sounds like it’s gonna be off-putting from the trailer. And I even had those concerns in the first few minutes of the film. But honestly, it fades. It works. He makes it work. And the mystery itself is really interesting and it takes a lot of really interesting angles in how it tells its story. To me, this is a great movie that also tells an important part of New York’s history that people don’t necessarily know about. That’s exactly what a detective mystery should be about. I think this is gonna go down as one of the most underrated films of this decade. I really like it and while I’m not yet gonna force it on people, I do think there’s a lot more here than maybe the reviews and the audiences who’ve seen it are giving it credit for.
Ms. Purple — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Great little indie from Justin Chon, who did Gook a few years ago, which was quite good. This is about a woman in Koreatown, Los Angeles caring for her father, who is basically comatose. She works as a hostess of sorts at a karaoke bar and has a nurse look after her father during the day. Only the nurse quits, so she reaches out to her estranged brother for help. And it’s just this nice little portrait of a family trying to make it work. Tiffany Chu is great in the lead and Chon is good as the brother. It’s just a very nice little hidden gem that I know no one is gonna bother to ever seek out without prompting. Gook was also very good and worth seeing, and Chon is establishing himself as a great filmmaker who tells these personal stories that feel very alive (and also highlight Asian actors and Asian stories, which is also an important thing for cinema to have).
Ne Zha — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This is like, the second or third biggest Chinese movie ever or something like that. And boy, does it show the cultural divide between the two audiences. I’m not even gonna say this is bad. Clearly Chinese audiences loved it. I’m just gonna say that this is not something American audiences are, at large, able to watch. Some people might love it. I am not one of those people. I didn’t get it, I didn’t care, and it felt like a lot of those cheap animated films I sometimes watch where you’re just like, “What is this? Who is it for?” So I’m leaving it to whoever that is.
Night Hunter — * * * (3 stars)
Movie about cops trying to catch a predator who kidnaps little girls. These are always tough movies, because I wonder why they think is gonna see them. People generally don’t want to watch movies like this. But it’s watchable. Henry Cavill is good. Ben Kingsley plays a vigilante who sends his teenage accomplice in to see men she chats with online, captures them and then castrates them so they won’t do it again. It’s watchable, and it’s got what some people might think is a good twist of sorts and what others will think is insane. Honestly, given the broad strokes of the plot, just watch Prisoners instead. It covers similar ground and is way better.
The Nightingale — * * * * (4 stars)
I love this movie. I was very in for it from when it was announced. I think I even tracked it a year too early because I was so excited for it. Jennifer Kent’s first film was The Babadook, and it’s one of the few horror movies of the past decade I actually like. So when I heard she was making another film, I was in. I didn’t even really know what it was about for most of that time. I was just in for it. And finally, when I saw it, I was just blown away. It’s a simple revenge story with so much more going on in terms of period and setting and the historical and racial and gender elements. Aisling Franciosi is tremendous as the lead and gives one of the best performances of the year. And the film is just so well-directed by Jennifer Kent. I really like this one a lot and think it’s one of the best overall films of this year.
Noelle — * * * (3 stars)
Very fun premise and I like the idea behind it. It’s about Santa’s daughter, played by Anna Kendrick. Santa dies, and his son, Bill Hader, is in line to take up the mantle of Santa. But he just doesn’t want it. So he runs away (which is sort of Kendrick’s fault, though she didn’t anticipate him taking as drastic measures as he does), and Kendrick has to go after him with the help of Shirley MacLaine (an elder elf, naturally). And of course you know it’s building to Kendrick being the one who is truly deserving of being Santa Claus, and it’s a very likable, if by-the-numbers at times. Nothing that’ll ever be considered a masterpiece, but a fun little Christmas movie that has shades of Elf, if only because Kendrick is so naive and cheerful all the time.
Official Secrets — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Very nice political drama about a whistleblower. Directed by Gavin Hood (nice to see him coming back to character drama after some studio films that didn’t work) and starring Keira Knightley. She comes across an NSA memo where the US and British governments, in the wake of 9/11, ask the NSA to spy on the UN Security Council in the wake of the vote leading up to the Iraq War. Which is patently illegal. So she leaks it to the press to show the underhanded (and illegal) tactics the Bush administration was taking, and of course it results in her being arrested and threatened with all sorts of legal action. It’s a very strong film, and it’s one of those that should make you angry as a viewer. Any time you see someone doing the right thing and then being railroaded for it by a stronger entity, it should stir something within you. And that’s what the film is. You watch this woman’s life almost fall apart because she dared stand up to a government doing illegal things. It’s really solid. One of those movies that was destined to never get seen by a proper audience, but it’s very well made and is a nice little gem from this year.
Okko’s Inn — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Everyone was raving about Weathering with You, but this ended up being the Japanese animated film that I liked most this year. There’s a certain tone of these films that I can’t quite explain. But if you saw either Your Name or Weathering with You, there’s that tone. And then this film is a different tone. This one has more of a Ghibli feel, while the other is, I’m guessing, more of a straight anime feel. And I think that’s why I preferred this one to that one. Plus there’s the general plot of a girl learning to run her grandmother’s inn after the death of her parents. And she meets these ghosts that only she can see, and there’s that aspect, which feels very Ghibli. But ultimately it becomes this beautiful movie about catharsis, and I really liked that aspect a lot. Animation felt pretty weak this year, but this film is one I can completely get behind. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes Ghibli.
Overcomer — * * (2 stars)
Yet another shitty faith-based movie about a basketball coach who is forced to be the school’s running coach even though he doesn’t want to. And he only has one runner, and she’s a girl with asthma who has never met her father and also just kind of steals stuff for no reason(?). But, of course she’s eventually gonna be a champion! And somehow that blind old dude who likes running in the hospital that the coach ends up at… guess who he’s gonna be! It’s so bad. I hate these movies. To its credit (if I can even call it that), it’s more of a sports movie than a faith-based movie, but it’s also very faith-based, and that shit is just intolerable. These movies are so badly written and are really only made for such a narrow portion of the public. It makes me wonder if the people this is for either don’t watch good movies or just give these movies a pass because all they do is reaffirm their beliefs and it doesn’t matter what else they do. Either way, all these movies are so unwatchable, and I find that I’m past the point of even making fun of them. They’re just bad. It makes me sad to know that this movie made 35 times the box office that Waves did.
Pachamama — * * * (3 stars)
Animated movie about the Incas that somehow is not a spinoff of Emperor’s New Groove starring John Goodman’s character. Instead, it’s about a boy who wants to become a tribal medicine man. It’s fine. Animation style is bright and colorful. Plot didn’t do much for me, but you could do worse.
Paradise Hills — * * * (3 stars)
Very odd movie. Bunch of women end up at this weird brainwashing facility (which… it’s clear what it is from the start, even though the movie tries to slow play it) where they’re gonna be turned into the ‘ideal’ versions of themselves for their families. But then there’s this weird other twist thing going on you find out later on, and then Milla Jovovich is this weird Poison Ivy character with earth powers or some shit? There’s way too much going on here. It’s watchable because it’s interesting enough, but they really needed to get rid of some of the stuff and focus on one story thread for it to really work.
Parasite — * * * * (4 stars)
This is one of the absolute best films of 2019. Better to start with it, since we all seem to be coming to that same conclusion whenever we watch it. There’s always a foreign movie that gets hype, but this one’s on another level. Bong Joon Ho is going on talk shows, the public at large is starting to hear about this movie, not just the movie people. This is a big deal. And even when my casual film fan friends see this, they all come out and say it’s great, so I’m gonna go ahead and say that most people will really like this. I will caution and say that you should go in as cold as humanly possible. The less you know about the film, the better. And if you’ve seen Bong Joon Ho’s previous work (namely Okja or Snowpiercer), you know he’s gonna make a good movie. So already you know at minimum you’re in good hands. But really, you should see this because this is truly one of the best things to come out this year and it’s an insanely entertaining film. Do yourself a favor and seek this one out.
The Parts You Lose — * * * (3 stars)
Indie thriller about a bullied deaf kid who keeps a wanted fugitive in his barn. Aaron Paul plays the fugitive and Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the kid’s mother. It’s one of those… the father is a piece of shit and gone and she’s a single mother, and the fugitive becomes a sort of friend/father figure, because he helps him stand up for himself and doesn’t allow him to feel sorry for himself… all that stuff you’d expect in a movie like this. It’s watchable. It’s just one of those things you’ve seen before. It doesn’t go anywhere particularly new or interesting. So it’s just fine. Which is fine.
Pavarotti — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Ron Howard-directed documentary about Pavarotti. I didn’t think I’d be all that interested in this, but I was wrong. It’s really solid. And it really gets behind the man and what made him the greatest opera singer in the world. You really get a sense of who this man is, and the joy with which he approached all aspects of life. It doesn’t go too deep in the flaws of his character, but it goes enough for you to get the idea. It could dive deep into them, but it doesn’t just avoid them the way you’d expect something like this to. So I’m a big fan of this documentary. It’s one of my favorites of the year.
Pink Wall — * * * (3 stars)
It’s like (500) Days of Summer if it were directed by the Duplass brothers. It stars Jay Duplass and Tatiana Maslany, and the film bounces back and forth over the course of their six year relationship, from the beginnings when they’re super in love to the end when they’re fighting all the time and unhappy. It’s fine. Both actors do a good job. It’s mumblecore though, so it feels like there’s not too much there in the end. There’s a lot of improvisation and the actors get to have fun with it, but there’s no structure around it to keep it all together. Some people might go for that, since it provides ‘realism’. I just felt like I wanted it to amount to something more than it does. Especially since I love Tatiana Maslany, and I wanted this to feel worthy of her. Which it doesn’t. It’s just a decently watchable indie and nothing more.
Playmobil: The Movie — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
“Playmobil: We’re just like Legos, only knockoff.” Which is basically the theme of the product and the movie. Because it’s basically a rehash of the Lego Movie, only with the live-action segments bookending the movie. Girl longs for adventure but her parents die so she’s forced to put her life on hold to care for her younger brother. He runs way to go to a Playmobil exhibit and then she goes after him and they both end up inside it. It’s generic in every way and a complete rehash of a movie you’ve essentially seen before. Designed purely to sell the toys. After Lego Movie, it opened the floodgates for all of these things to get movies. So no one should be surprised that it’s not very good.
Playing with Fire — * * (2 stars)
Holy shit. Why did they rush to get this into November? Did they think people were gonna like it? This is your standard ‘brawny men having to deal with children’ film. They’re firemen who fight wildfires and now they get orphaned kids and have to figure out how to be parental figures to them. Totally contrived in every way. You can see everything coming from a mile away, and none of it is funny at all. I was shocked at how bad this was. It was just totally tone deaf in every way. I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt, but it was really bad.
Pretenders — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I know better than to watch any movie directed by James Franco except when it involves Tommy Wiseau, but the cast on this made me think, “Maybe it’ll be watchable?” But that’s always the rub. He has friends. He gets them to be in his movies and it makes you think maybe they’re watchable. But they’re not. They never are. His movies feel like someone writing a book report. He brings up films and actors and directors almost as if to say, “Yes, I have read this in a book of great films and I, too, think it is good.” I hate to use this word, but you can feel the pretension all over this. And that’s usually the big critique of everything Franco does. Because there’s nothing of value here except a bunch of recognizable people delivering bad dialogue that reads like an art student thinking they’re making something great. I really need to stop watching these things.
Primal — * * * (3 stars)
Nic Cage movie with him as a big game hunter traveling with all his catches on a ship containing a high profile prisoner. And, surprise! The prisoner gets free and releases all the dangerous animals on the ship, including a jaguar. So it’s Snakes on a Plane, but wild animals on a boat, mixed with a psychopath on the loose killing people. It’s fun. Complete trash in every way, but I like that it is. Cage is more animated than he is in a lot of these paycheck movies, and it’s a watchable movie. On the scale of these Cage paycheck movies, this one is one of the more decent ones. Because there are a lot that are not so decent, trust me.
Primal – Tales of Savagery — * * * (3 stars)
Fun little animated show about a caveman and a dinosaur. Weird entry for Animated Feature, since it’s a show that was edited together into a feature, but hey, whatever they wanna do. Visuals looked solid and the story was watchable, if not great. I liked that it was wordless, though. That made it easier to watch for me.
Promare — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This is straight hardcore anime (at least, for me). I can only do so much before I just don’t get it. So this one wasn’t for me and I’m just leaving it for the people it’s for.
Queen & Slim — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
It’s belittling to simply call this movie the ‘black Bonnie and Clyde movie’, but in terms of a broad strokes plot, that is the best way to describe it in a way that makes people understand what it is. It stars Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya as two people who meet for a date which ends with a traffic stop and a cop being murdered. So now, they’re on the run together, and are just doing their best to survive. And it’s a really great film. It hits on a lot of current day issues in terms of race in America and police brutality and just the general difficulty of being black in America. Both leads are great, as is Bokeem Woodbine as her uncle, and it’s a movie that is full of little sequences rather than a specific plot, as a movie like this should be. I will say that they do some real plate-spinning to get them out of a few of those situations, and some of that stuff felt a bit overly contrived to me, but overall, this was a very solid movie. It’s definitely not without its problems, but can put aside my quibbles in defense of the things this movie has to say. This was a very well put-together movie that acts as a great directorial debut from Melina Matsoukas.
A Rainy Day in New York — * * * (3 stars)
Woody Allen. He’s nearing 50 films in his career, and at this point, we’ve all lost hope of him ever making a good one again. He had Midnight in Paris, but that’s it. Everything since has been, at best, fine (and yes, that includes Blue Jasmine, which is just fair). Now, people won’t even watch his films stateside, so really this is basically the last of them we’re ever gonna get. This one is just… put it this way, Timothée Chalamet’s character’s name is Gatsby Welles. Does that not tell you everything you need to know about this movie? Woody’s not even trying anymore. He’s just taking from things he likes and throwing them out there, or taking from his own work and repeating that. (Blue Jasmine is just him doing Streetcar and Wonder Wheel is just him doing Blue Jasmine.) The whole thing takes place over the course of a day, but it’s just… I don’t know who this movie is for. At one point, Selena Gomez tells Chalamet, “You’re not gonna start singing ‘Gigi’ are you?” Which… Selena Gomez doesn’t know what Gigi is. And also, who is that reference for? That’s something written by an old man who knows his audience is now in their 70s. To his credit, there’s no Freud in this one, thank christ. But there are baseline movie references. Also, in typical Woody Allen movie fashion, his idea of a good first date is to go check out paintings and avoid your relatives because your mother is putting on her annual ball that evening that you don’t want to attend. Then you have the young, naive girl being whisked around town by a neurotic film director and his put-upon assistant, who suspects his wife is having an affair with a man named Lipschitz, and then Selena Gomez is the ‘totally normal’ girl who has a ‘date’ that night with her skin doctor and who, despite not coming from money, has a gigantic apartment overlooking Central Park. At this point, he’s not even a parody of himself. It’s crazy. Oh, and no, this isn’t a great movie, like all the other ones he’s come out with the past eight years. Though I do get some perverse enjoyment out of watching them, just because you wonder how they still get made and are all exactly the same movie every time.
Rambo: Last Blood — * * * (3 stars)
This franchise exists over four decades. That’s crazy. But yeah, it’s more Rambo stuff. This is a movie that doesn’t have to be Rambo and could just be a Stallone action vehicle. I’m not sure specifically what makes it Rambo outside of him violently killing a bunch of guys. But hey, if that’s what they wanna do, that’s fine. It’s pretty generic. It’s watchable, but there’s not a whole lot here that feels particularly worthwhile. But hey, they made money off of it, so good job Sly, staying relevant after 45 years of stardom.
Rattlesnake — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Really shitty Netflix thriller about a mother traveling with her daughter when the girl gets bit by a (insert title here). Then a mysterious woman helps save the girl, but her mother soon she finds out she’s made some weird supernatural pact that requires her to kill someone to make it right. So it’s just her going around trying not to do it, and then trying to do it. And it amounts to absolutely nothing. There’s nothing of value with this one. Pure forgettable Netflix schlock.
Ready or Not — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Great horror/thriller-comedy. There’s always one movie like this each year, where it’s straight genre but has such an ingenious premise you go, “Oh, I’m in for that.” And then it has that dark comedic tone to it that really puts it over the top. Here’s the premise: bride marries into the family of the biggest board game dynasty in the country. On her wedding night, she has to play a game with the family. Turns out, the one game she picks — hide and seek — is the one game where the family goes around, trying to murder her. It’s great. Samara Weaving stars, coming off other genre films like Mayhem and The Babysitter (most people will know her as John Hawkes girlfriend in Three Billboards, the one who works at the zoo), and it’s just a really fun time. This is the kind of movie that’s for everyone, because people like me normally hate shit like this if it’s just the same overly serious bullshit I usually get. But this has the fun element to it, which means anyone can watch it and enjoy it. Big fan of this one.
The Report — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Okay, so this is a movie about the torture report they put together during the Obama administration about all the torture the CIA did on suspected terrorists after 9/11. The CIA hired contractors who claimed to specialize in ‘advanced interrogation’, but basically just took a big contract and then came in and tortured people and were like, “Yeah, this’ll work.” And then it didn’t and basically we just tortured people and happily did it. So they ordered this investigation, and it took years and years and they poured over all these documents, and then of course the CIA deliberately tried to keep a lid on it, and the government wasn’t gonna do anything about it because it’s like, “That’s all done now, we stopped.” And everyone else was like, “But you fucking did it.” This is all public record, so it’s not really spoiling anything. Most of the movie is Adam Driver as the guy assigned to head up this investigation, sitting in a dark room and pouring over documents for years and finding out just how fucked up and bad things were and being frustrated because the government and CIA are thwarting this information from coming to light at every turn. It’s a really solid movie. It’s political, which I know is a very tiresome subject now. We get so much of this shit in our daily lives with all the corruption going on that watching a movie about it just feels like too much. And I’ll agree. I avoided this for a bit because I felt the same way. But when I watched it, I found that it was really solid. It’s hard seeing Annette Bening play Dianne Feinstein, especially now when we’re all so aware of her as a public figure. It used to be easier when you barely knew who these people were unless you lived in their state. But it’s a very solid movie, written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, who wrote a lot of Soderbergh movies (like Side Effects and Contagion and The Informant!). It’s a very solid movie that is gonna get forgotten because it’s one of those movies that is necessary (exposing lies and illegal activity by the government) but also something that people try to avoid because it just depresses the shit out of you. But it is good, and I do recommend it if it’s something you feel like watching.
Running with the Devil — * * * (3 stars)
Nic Cage VOD movie that’s also got Laurence Fishburne and Barry Pepper and Adam Goldberg and Clifton Collins. It’s about a rich drug dealer who notices some issues along his supply chain. So he sends his guys to figure out what’s going wrong. So we basically follow the drugs all along the chain to see what the problem is. Cage plays “The Cook” (everyone’s got one of those titles), and he’s just part of the chain, and all the other people show up for varying lengths of time throughout the film. And… honestly, it’s trying to be cooler than it is, but it is watchable, even if it’s just another one of those cheap-looking movies with actors barely trying and taking a paycheck. Cage has had five movies come out this year, and while none are particularly great, I’d say this is the second most watchable one on that list. So I guess there’s that.
Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon — * * * (3 stars)
It’s fun. I never particularly like the first one and this was more of the same. Aardman is the kind of animation group where I respect their style and artistry more than I love their films. I just like watching them put stuff together. The film is just cute. That’s about it.
She’s Missing — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Indie thriller about a woman whose friend goes missing. Very small, very niche, not particularly for me, but it stars Lucy Fry and Eiza Gonzalez, if that interests anyone.
The Sound of Silence — * * * (3 stars)
Very weird and interesting film. A quintessential New York indie. Peter Sarsgaard plays a ‘house tuner’, who has this hearing/pitch thing where he can hear the tones all the machines and things in the house are giving off. So when people say they aren’t liking their place, he’s able to come in, listen to the room tone of each room and find disharmonies that are imperceptible to most people. So he’ll come out and go, “Get a new toaster.” And then they will, and it’ll work. And meanwhile he’s compiling this weird map of New York City, finding where all the different pitches and notes are all throughout the map. Meanwhile, he meets Rashida Jones, whose house he is tasked with fixing, but soon finds himself unable to fix it. And it becomes a weird pseudo-romance, but not really. It’s weird. But it’s interesting. It’s too indie for me to really go nuts for, but I like it as an offbeat little film that shows me a character I’ve never seen before.
Strange But True — * * * (3 stars)
I thought the premise would lead to a good movie — guy dies in a car crash and then five years later his girlfriend comes to the family and says she’s pregnant with his child. Of course, they don’t believe her, but pretty soon they start convincing themselves it might be true. And what should just be an interesting character study about people wanting something to be true and essentially making it true, the movie turns into something else completely by its third act, to the point where you really just lost interest in it entirely. There are some good actors in it, though, and it does hold interest for much of it, so ultimately I’m fine with it, but man, that ending really let me down hardcore.
Surprise — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Saw this because it’s technically a part of my Director’s List. It’s a really low budget found footage movie that literally looks as though it were filmed on one of those cheap video cameras that’s on display at Best Buy. It’s about a surprise party that gets filmed and all sorts of crazy shit happens, mostly in terms of secrets and things coming out. It’s… not good. I watched it because I had to (self-imposed). No one else ever needs to bother with this movie. It’s unwatchable.
Sweetheart — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I really liked this. It’s a simple survival horror that starts with Kiersey Clemons washing up on an island, Cast Away style. And what seems like it’s gonna be her figuring out how to find food and shelter, it turns into a monster movie, since it turns out some creature lives just off the shore of the island and comes out at night to feed. So now it’s her trying to figure out how to get off without that thing finding and killing her. It’s really interesting. Of course, by the midway point, theres a bit of a twist and you start to realize what the title is in reference to. Since it’s… it’s kinda like that movie The Monster with Zoe Kazan. It’s a horror movie, but the creature represents something else. That’s what this is doing. And I thought it was really effective.
Tall Girl — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Netflix rom com. The basic premise is sort of interesting, but the way they go about it is just so bad. There’s something about most high school movies now where it’s like they don’t know what actually happens in high school. Here, literally anyone who passes by the main character makes jokes about how tall she is. But like, the most obvious, evil, mean jokes. When in reality, it would be more subtle than that. And then there’s shit like her father, who keeps trying to bond with her by doing things like, “Hey, I invited a group for proud tall people to come over!” And it’s like, “Why not just bond with her by being her father, which presumably you’ve been for 17 years before this movie began.” This could have been charming if it weren’t so poorly written. There are a few actual nice moments in this, but the bad so outweighed the good I couldn’t go any higher than 2.5 on it. There’s better Netflix rom coms to watch than this.
Terminator: Dark Fate — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I’m always cautiously optimistic whenever they come out with a new Terminator movie. They’re never good, but I’m always hopeful they could be. And Rise of the Machines was basically just playing off the same story we remembered from the first two, which was fine, even if the movie wasn’t all that great. Then when they went back to Salvation, it just felt lazy, even if the general conceit of the movie was interesting (and then fucked up in the end). Also, both times they hired completely generic action directors instead of visionaries (which I think speaks to what I’m gonna get into in a second). Then Genisys was basically the first movie done again, but differently. It was some J.J. Abrams Star Trek shit, like, “Here it is again! But in a different parallel reality!” None of them worked. And I think the problem all alone was the fact that no one wanted to step on Cameron’s toes and change the reality he set forward. And the only way that was gonna happen was that either someone had the balls to change it or they brought him back. Here, it feels like they did both. Because within three minutes of this movie starting, they completely shift the paradigm of Judgment Day in such an easy way that it makes you wonder what the hell they were doing all these years with the franchise. I expected to watch and hope for something interesting. But here, you immediately got it. “Oh, shit… this is gonna be interesting.” I was in from the jump. And the movie only got better. I love what they did with it. It’s hugely entertaining and they bring back everyone they need to in order to shepherd this new reality forward. Bringing Linda Hamilton back is like bringing Jeff Bridges back for Tron: Legacy. He’s only there to smooth the transition from old to new. And it works. You feel stakes again, even if it is the same general plot, moved six inches over to the right. Which is cool, since we understand the general concept of Terminator. So six inches is a huge margin for that story. And you get current day issues underscored by the plot (namely in terms of having a Mexican female protagonist) to boot. Plus, old Arnold with an actual character arc, which is quite wonderful. And then Mackenzie Davis, who is just fantastic (but has such horrible luck, because she should be one of the biggest stars in the world right now). I liked just about everything about this movie. This is the Terminator movie we should have gotten 15 years ago. But hey, better late than never.
Top End Wedding — * * * (3 stars)
Fun little Australian rom com. I originally tracked it because I saw that Alan Rickman was part of the cast, and I thought, “Oh, I didn’t realize he had another movie that he was in.” And it turns out… he’s not in this. At one point in the film they put on Die Hard and it’s archival footage. Oh well. Still, I enjoyed this. It’s about a workaholic woman who gets the job of her dreams and is about to get married when her mother suddenly runs away on the eve of her wedding. So she goes off to go find her. And it’s fun. Her husband bonds with her father, and it becomes a really sweet family journey. I suspect people unfamiliar with Australia and its history of racial relationships won’t get as much out of it, but you can pick up most of it through watching (though it goes deeper than that, clearly). The first hour is touch and go, but it does get better as it goes along. I’m glad I saw this.
The Tower — * * * (3 stars)
Cool stop motion film about a girl in a Palestinian refugee camp finding out about her family’s history. It mixes different styles of animation and it’s really well made.
Trauma Center — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Whoo boy. This is a Bruce Willis paycheck movie, and they are getting worse. When you see his first scene in this movie… it’s literally like he was given the talking points before the scene and told ‘be angry’. It’s bad. The rest of the movie is just as badly written. But hey, Steve Guttenberg is in it! That’s really all it has going for it. It’s pretty much completely generic all around and will be unwatchable for most.
Undercover Brother 2 — * * * (3 stars)
So I found out this was a thing like, a week before it came out (on VOD, naturally). And the only reason I even looked at it was because it starred Michael Jai White. I figured I could use something to hold me over until Outlaw Johnny Black comes out, so I thought I’d check this out. I expected it to be bad and that I wouldn’t care and wonder slightly why I even bothered. But it was so stupid that I actually enjoyed it. I had fun with this.
Upin & Ipin : The Lone Gibbon Kris — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Malaysian animated film based on what is apparently a big hit animated series there. Don’t know how this approximates the show, but the film itself wasn’t for me. I appreciate that more countries are getting into the animated game, but sometimes the content doesn’t always translate. So I wasn’t a big fan of this, but it’s cool to see.
Villains — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Really fun comedy-thriller. Maika Monroe and Bill Skarsgard are a couple on the run after robbing a gas station and their car breaks down. They take refuge in a house, which they soon find to be the home of Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick. But, turns out… they’re not the most normal of couples. And it turns into a really fucked up time for everyone involved. It’s fun. Kinda fizzles out as it gets to the end. I thought it was gonna be twist after twist after twist. Mostly it’s just a couple of twists in the first half and then just suspense stuff for the rest of the film and all we really get are explanations rather than more twists. Generally it works. It’s very engaging and fast. It’s only 90 minutes long, so you get through it quickly and painlessly enough. It felt more engaging to me than most other stuff that came out this year, that’s for sure. I’ll watch Maika Monroe in anything, and this is a nice little addition to her ‘genre’ filmography to go along with It Follows and The Guest.
Waves — * * * * (4 stars)
I had no real expectations for this earlier in the year. I figured it would be solid, since Trey Edward Shults has been trending upward. Krisha was fine (though I know some people loved it) and It Comes at Night was very solid, even if I didn’t love it. But you felt a sure hand behind the camera and you knew that eventually this guy would break out with something amazing. I thought this would be a step in that direction, and it turns out I got the leap. I really didn’t expect that. The trailer looked so good and the reviews were so good that I ran to a theater as soon as it came out to see it. And man… this movie almost destroyed me. In a good way. I really wasn’t sure what it was gonna be, because the plot in the trailer is very vague. But holy shit. I don’t even want to really talk about it, because it’s better to just go in cold and let the movie take you on its journey. But, Sterling K. Brown is amazing as the father, Kelvin Harrison is amazing as the son and Taylor Russell is amazing as the daughter/sister. And you have Lucas Hedges, who is fantastic. The whole movie is just a ride. I’m telling you. It’s a real ride. You just gotta go on it. You will feel something. Trust me. This movie for sure will make you feel something, and already I’m upset that this isn’t something that’s gonna get awards attention, because this deserves to be nominated up and down the board for stuff. It’s that strong. This is the indie of the year for me. That Florida Project type indie that is just incredible but is never gonna get the proper notice it should. Please, do yourself a favor and see this as soon as possible.
Weathering with You — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This was solid, but wasn’t totally for me. I liked aspects of it but did not like others. It’s about a runaway who finds a girl who is able to control the weather. And it’s a romance of sorts. Very similar to Your Name in tone and feel. I wasn’t a fan of that film and I’m slightly more of a fan of this one, but only slightly. Anime tends to not do it for me, and there’s a very particular sort that does. And this just wasn’t it. Oh well. I’ll leave it to the people this is for.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette — * * * * (4 stars)
I marked this as something I’d want to see because it was Richard Linklater, who always makes worthwhile movies. Then they pushed it to August, which is never a good sign for things, and the reviews were mixed leaning toward bad, which made me wait to see it. But I absolutely loved this movie. I don’t know what anyone else was watching. But it was wonderful. Cate Blanchett gives one of my favorite performances of the year in this. The general plot — and I think this is why people didn’t go for it. The plot doesn’t immediately give you the title in the first act. It takes about an hour for her to disappear — is that Blanchett is a former celebrity architect who has settled down with her husband (who is basically a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs type played by Billy Crudup, who is eternally underrated as an actor) in Seattle. And now, she’s just miserable. She’s all quirky and full of nerves and on all sorts of medications, and slowly this builds to a breaking point to those around her. And eventually she runs off. There’s no point in spoiling it. The joy here is all the character stuff and the eventual journey she (and her husband and daughter) takes over the course of the film. I really liked this a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I’m guessing because Linklater is very laid back on his narratives that people didn’t quite know what to make of it. But I thought it was just terrific and is one of the most underrated films of this year.
White Snake — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Chinese animated film. Gave it a shot. Didn’t do anything for me, outside of a few Crouching Tiger vibes it had.
The Wolf Hour — * * * (3 stars)
Contained psychological character study with Naomi Watts as a shut-in who used to be a 60s radical feminist who is inside her apartment in a hot New York summer and begins to go a bit crazy, because she can’t tell if people are harassing her or what’s going on. It’s decent. Nothing horror-related, so I liked that. Mostly a character study of this woman who used to be an author and is now just unable to function. Doesn’t amount to much, but Watt does some interesting stuff with it.
Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation — * * * (3 stars)
I saw it because I thought it would be a lot of music. And really it’s just about how they put the festival on and generally what it meant for the youth of the day. So it’s fine, but I was just hoping for something more encompassing. The gold standard for docs about it is Woodstock from 1970, which is just the feeling of being there. I’m not sure I’ve yet seen one that fully goes into everything surrounding it as well and really gets into the bands and how all that went down. So this fine, but I’m still holding out hope I see the full scope of the festival get talked about one day.
Wounds — * * * (3 stars)
Psychological horror movie that was more interesting before that shit started. Armie Hammer is a bartender at a rundown New Orleans bar. Dakota Johnson is his wife, and he just sort of drinks and hangs out with his regulars, one of whom is Zazie Beetz. And one night he finds a phone some college kids left in the bar, and, in trying to find out who it belongs to, finds some fucked up shit on it, which leads to some weird horror thing. Fortunately it’s not Blumhouse level genre/shitty, but it’s also not that interesting either. I kinda just wanted to see Armie Hammer hanging out at this shitty bar, not some weird bug shit or whatever the hell this was supposed to be.
Zeroville — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This was the only James Franco movie I told myself I’d ever watch again, assuming they ever released it. Because the rest just are unwatchable. At least this one is about LA in the 70s, and Seth Rogen was playing a character called “Viking Man” who was modeled on John Milius (and now that I’ve seen it, is John Milius). So I figured, “Okay, this could be good.” And holy shit, was I wrong. He literally writes a scene in this movie with George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola and I think Brian De Palma, sitting around in 1970 just talking movies. And Lucas is like, “I’ve got a robot movie!” It’s the most pretentious, film student jerk off session moment I have seen in a long time, and I saw Midsommar this year.
Zombieland 2: Double Tap — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
They took a decade to make a second one, so at this point, if they were gonna do it, they better have made it worthwhile. And, honestly, they pretty much did. The first one is very funny and unique and fresh. But it’s one of those films — kinda like that first Deadpool (which, are we surprised that the same writers did both) — it’s hard to bring it back without diminishing it because part of what makes it work is the element of surprise. You can’t do something like this successfully with expectations. Because now we’re looking for those references to the first one (like Bill Murray). Though, to this movie’s credit, they handle that stuff mostly well. To their credit, they did have that first trailer mention how, between films, they all ended up as Academy Award nominees (and even one of them won). That’s funny, since it’s a dumb zombie comedy. And then the story mostly works, even if they tread a bit on the same ground or try to invent extra plot lines for the actors to feel like they’ve got something to do. Overall, this works, and feels like a solid enough sequel for a movie that didn’t necessarily need one. I’m fine with it. It’ll never be on the level of the first one, but the fact that people won’t immediately talk about how much it sucked automatically labels it as a success to me.
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The Films I Haven’t Seen Yet
- Pain and Glory — I just have to sit down and watch it. It’ll happen, I just haven’t been able to yet.
- Tigers Are Not Afraid — Have a copy, just haven’t watched it yet. It’ll get watched in the next week.
- Monos — Have it, haven’t watched it yet. But I will within the next ten days.
- Loro — Have it, just need to watch it. I’ll get to it by the time we get to the article it’s supposed to be in.
- Jexi — This is supposed to be out on streaming Christmas Eve. So I’m sure I’ll see it around then.
- Western Stars — Sadly this came out during the one time I wasn’t able to go see it. But apparently it’s out digital end of this coming week, so I will happily run to see this movie as soon as that’s a possibility.
- Frankie — Theoretically I think I can see this before year’s out, but we’ll see if it actually happens. Maybe it waits until next year.
- The Two Popes — This is on Netflix in five days, so I’ll see it then.
- Richard Jewell — This just came out on Friday. Haven’t had the time to see it yet.
- A Hidden Life — This just came out on Friday. Haven’t had the time to see it yet.
- Uncut Gems — This just came out on Friday. Haven’t had the time to see it yet.
- Bombshell — This just came out on Friday. Haven’t had the time to see it yet.
- Seberg — This just came out on Friday. Haven’t had the time to see it yet.
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The Films That Have Not Yet Been Released
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
- Spies in Disguise
- Little Women
- Just Mercy
- The Song of Names
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