Critic’s Mind 2018-19


<em>Mission: Impossible lite</em>. With rom-com trappings. With expensive vehicle smashing and crashing. With unremarkable villains. Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz gussy up a tremendous amount of chemistry as the plot nonsensically has them going from one stunning backdrop to another (even Boston, Massachussetts is stunning). He’s a spy who has gone rogue, she’s reluctantly along for the ride. Much bickering until she learns to trust him. Cute movie star chemistry is one thing, but director James Mangold is another reason that makes <em>Knight and Day</em> go. Something arbitrary about the plotting though—they’re after a deus ex machina that’s in the form of a zephyr battery that never loses charging, one invented by king of nerds Paul Dano (he’s good at this sort of thing.). At some point, I realized I didn’t have to dig deeper into the plot and that I should just hang along for the ride myself.

With the quirky title <em>The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain</em>, you expect something folksy and exquisite and entertaining. Right off the bat, it has an unnecessarily messy exposition, we get an excess of local blarney, and we don’t get to know Hugh Grant as immediate as we should. Once the story begins developing, the townspeople of a Welsh spread want their 984-foot hill to qualify as a technically approved 1,000-foot mountain, so they decide to pour-over some dirt to it. Hence, we get some eventual lovely shots of working locals to pile onto the landscape, and finally, a nice little love story diversion that blossoms between Grant and Tara Fitzgerald. Of course, Colm Meaney is in this, too.

The most shocking demonstration of mass psychosis that I ever witnessed in my life up until 2013 was when critics did backflips and went apeshit over Joss Whedon’s black & white <em>Much Ado About Nothing</em>, which looks like it was shot at home with a tiny bit of set decoration to adorn it (Fact Check: it was shot at Whedon’s home, his admittedly rich home for he made so much dough off of “Avengers”).

I’ve seen some shocking bend-over-backwards hyperbole since then (I acknowledge that people still go goo-goo gaga over Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” but I’m still in disbelief as to… Why?? and WTF; and, of course, the suffocating “Jeanne Dielman” being chosen the #1 film ever made by Sight & Sound Magazine) but truly nothing ever shook me to my core—in boredom—like this one. Yeah, it’s a Shakespeare adaptation… but it’s just a dinky Shakespeare adaptation.

A wedding is to bridge Claudio (Fran Kanz) with Hero (Jillian Morgese, the one luminous, classically feminine face), but rumors of her promiscuity will spoil their plans lending way for public scandal or shall we say – lots of brouhaha. The budding secondary story has perpetual bachelor Benedick (Alexis Denisof) courting the hard-to-please Beatrice (Amy Acker). A dozen other characters weave in and out, with diminishing returns. Easy to recognize is Clark Gregg, as Leonato, whom has the most distinguished suit (an implied business mogul) and presides as the governor of Santa Monica. Gregg at least reads his lines like he understands Shakespeare.

Let’s back up. Let me say I could be watching this <em>Much Ado About Nothing</em> for twenty minutes, take a bathroom break, come back, and… totally forget what Benedick looks like. Or what any other male actor looks like. All of the male faces are so analogue in appearance that sometimes you cannot tell them apart, and other times you cannot simply remember what they look like.

Yet the movie was courted like it was some shining beacon in artistic achievement. In 2013, I called out <b>Bullshit</b>. In the years since… nobody talks about Whedon’s <em>Much Ado About Nothing</em>, which reaffirms me that I was right and that everybody at the time went goo goo gaga over… practically nothing. <em>Magical! Luminous! Divine!</em>, I dunno, those were words used for it at the time. <em>One of the year’s best!</em> by some critics, whom by year’s end, didn’t even put it on their year’s ten best list. Even months after it came out, this ridiculously overpraised critical darling was… forgotten about. Justly.

Oh, the merriment! Better yet, I’d rather call it sexy and exuberant. Kenneth Branagh has always been dedicated to the works of William Shakespeare, but God bless him, he gets the subtext and the aesthetics underpinnings.

I’m old enough in my daring to declare that Shakespeare can be overly taxing. Yes, most of his works are embedded with florid if superb language.There was a time in the 16th century when every audience member, even in a subconscious way, must have been like, <em>bring it on</em>. I for one am seduced by his language, only to be befuddled by some passages that are frankly dated. Too outdated.

The superb silver lining of 1993’s <em>Much Ado About Nothing</em> is that, even when I don’t get the language, I find the frolicking and backgrounds and costumes and omnipresent flirtations by the actors to be entertaining and arresting.

At the forefront, Emma Thompson (as Beatrice) is jaded and doesn’t believe in love but she’s so physically appealing and provocatively outspoken. Branagh (as Benedick) at first is appalled by her but is gradually so smitten by her whipsmart ways that he finds it his romantic mission to endear and win her over.

Other actors physically look great: Robert Sean Leonard who is smitten for bodacious Kate Beckinsale but becomes vexed by subsequent competition as well as her indiscretions; also, Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves, whom want sex with some dames, then want some detours of revenge against some other, then want sex again with other dames once tamed (or something). Then there is the unshowered and reeking Michael Keaton in the comic role of being some kind of outcast commentator (or something). Note: I looked up the play and it says that Keaton plays a constable. Oh… I see.

We have a cast of good looking people playing good looking people in the past whom are temporary fools until the denouement when they wrap things up and settle on their fates. Sing praises too for the felicioutous choreography, especially in the final shot. Also, if there’s even been an inspired use of a crane camera, that too is part of the final shot.

Best Performances of the Decade: Yun Jung-hee (“Poetry”); Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”); Natalie Portman (“Vox Lux”); Charlotte Gainsbourg (“Nymphomaniac”); Bria Vinaite (“The Florida Project”); Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”); Woody Harrelson (“Rampart”); Adam Sandler (“Uncut Gems”); Tom Hanks (“Sully”); Michael Fassbender (“Shame”). — 12-26-19

Worst Films of the Decade: The Snowman; Bachelorette; Trespass; Americano; The Bounty Hunter; The Dinner; Alice Through the Looking Glass; Isle of Dogs; Zama; The Man Who Killed Don Quixote; The Haunting of Sharon Tate; Movie 43; I Melt With You; Winter’s Tale; Killers; A Thousand Words; Gotti; Welcome to Marwen; A Good Day to Die Hard. — 12-23-19

Parasite” is my first 5-star film off the 2019 roster.

Movies I Saw Fall 2019: “Sorcerer” (1977), A+. “The Wages of Fear” (1953, France), A+. “Uncut Gems,” A+. “The Squid and the Whale” (2005), A. “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941), A. “Parasite” (South Korea), A. “Dark Waters,” A. “The Game” (1997), A. “The Irishman,” A. “Wag the Dog” (1997), A. “Mean Streets” (1973), A. “Marriage Story,” A. “Angst” (1983, Austria), A. “Badlands” (1973), A-. “Contempt” (1963, France), A-. “House” (1977, Japan), A-. “Ford v Ferrari,” A-. “Bombshell,” B+. “1917,” B+. “Halloween” (1978), B+. “Your Friends & Neighbors” (1998), B+. “Normal Life” (1996), B+. “After Dark, My Sweet” (1990), B+. “Frozen II,” B+. “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964, France), B+. “Knives Out,” B+. “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” (1988), B. “Synecdoche, New York” (2008), B. “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001), B. “The Report,” B. “The Lighthouse,” B. “Dolemite is My Name,” B. “The Laundromat,” B. “Richard Jewell,” B. “Gangs of New York” (2002), B. “Child’s Play,” B. “Dead Man” (1995), B. “The Young Girls of Rochefort” (1967, France), B-. “Blackhat” (2015), C+. “Little Women,” C+. “Joker,” C+. “Queen & Slim,” C+. “Q: The Winged Serpent” (1982), C+. “Colette,” C+. “Cradle Will Rock” (1999), C+. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” C. “Pain and Glory” (Spain), C. “These Final Hours” (2015), C. “A Hidden Life,” C. “Dark Star” (1974), C. “Europa Report” (2013), C. “A Promise” (2013, France), C. “The Underneath” (1995), C. “Fading Gigolo” (2013), C. “The Naked Kiss” (1964), C. “The Art of Self Defense,” C. “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (1982), C-. “Stardust” (2007), C-. “In the Mouth of Madness” (1994), C-. “L’Eclisse” (1962, Italy), C-. “Hoffa” (1992), D+. “Red Riding Trilogy” (2010), D+. “Judy,” D+. “Ice Station Zebra” (1968), D+. “Her Smell,” D. “The Kitchen,” D. “The Haunting of Sharon Tate,” F. — 10-10-2019

Movies I Saw Summer 2019: “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1969), A+. “sex, lies & videotape” (1989), A. “That Obscure Object of Desire” (1977, France), A. “Dumbo” (1941), A. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” A. “Ad Astra,” A. “The Farewell,” A. “The Perfume of Yvonne” (1994, France), A-. “Lilya 4-Ever” (2003, Sweden), A-. “Midsommar,” A-. “Hustlers,” B+. “Drugstore Cowboy” (1989), B+. “Christiane F.” (1981, Germany), B+. “Harakiri” (1962, Japan), B+. “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1962), B+. “American Movie” (1999), B+. “They Shall Not Grow Old,” B+. “The New World” (2005), B. “Yesterday,” B. “Duck You Sucker!” (1971), B. “Gloria Bell,” B. “The Ballad of Narayama” (1958, Japan), B. “The Mustang,” B. “Kwaidan” (1964, Japan), B. “Toy Story 4,” B. “Ready or Not,” B. “Holiday” (Netherlands), B. “Barney’s Version” (2010), B. “Where Eagles Down” (1968), B. “Quadrophenia” (1979), B. “Lady Snowblood” (1973, Japan), B-. “Isn’t It Romantic,” B-. “Hobson’s Choice” (1954), B-. “Under the Silver Lake,” C+. “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” C+. “Cold Souls” (2008), C+. “Dumbo” (2019), C+. “Streets of Fire” (1984), C+. “Southern Comfort” (1981), C+. “The Scent of Green Papaya” (1993, Vietnam), C. “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” C-. “Perfect Blue” (1997), C-. “The Wandering Earth,” C-. “The Intruder,” D+. “The Aftermath,” D+. “Cold Pursuit,” D. “Mommy” (2014), D. “What Men Want,” D. “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” F. — 6-24-19

John Singleton RIP, January 6, 1968 – April 29, 2019 known for directing the seminal “Boyz N in the Hood” (1991) at age 23, and being the youngest director and first African-American director nominated. His best, though?  Not quite. Imagine Spielberg made “Schindler’s List” and it was buried by the studio, reviewed dismissively, publicly ignored, labeled a failure on specious merits? That’s what happened to Singleton with “Rosewood” (1997), a docudrama on the burning of a Florida town in 1923 that should have been regarded his magnum opus. – 4-29-19

Movies I Saw Spring 2019: “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), A. “High Life,” A. “Interstellar” (2014), A. “Us,” A. “Climax” (France), A-. “Vagabond” (1986, France), A-. “In the Shadow of the Moon” (2007), A-. “Dragged Across Concrete,” A-. “Wake in Fright” (1971), A-. “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again,” B+. “Ash is Purest White” (China), B+. “The Beach Bum,” B+. “Boy Erased,” B+. “Keanu” (2016), B+. “Apollo 11,” B+. “White Hunter Black Heart” (1990), B+. “The Virgin Suicides” (2000), B+. “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992), B+. “Mustang” (2015, Turkey), B+. “The Act of Killing” (2013), B+. “Winchester ’73” (1950), B+. “Winter Light” (1963, Sweden), B+. “Suspiria” (1977, Italy), B+. “The Death of Stalin,” B. “Vivre Sa Vie” (1962, France), B. “Rebecca” (1940), B. “The American Friend” (1977, Germany), B. “Destroyer,” B. “A Vigilante,” B. “Sing Street” (2016), B. “On the Basis of Sex,” B. “Rollerball” (1977), B. “The Old Man and the Gun,” B. “35 Shots of Rum” (2010, France), B. “Chocolat” (1988, France), B. “Arctic,” B. “Kill, Baby… Kill!” (1966, Italy), B. “The Mule,” B. “Booksmart,” B. “Long Shot,” B-. “Household Saints” (1993), B-. “Thunder Road,” B-. “Rocketman,” C+. “Dancer in the Dark” (2000, Denmark), C+. “Children of a Lesser God” (1986), C+. “Get on the Bus” (1996), C+. “Domino,” C. “The Sisters Brothers,” C. “The Front Runner,” C. “Polytechnique” (2009), C. “City of Hope” (1991), C. “Red Planet” (2000), C. “Let the Sunshine In” (France), C. “Johnny English Strikes Again,” C. “Kings of the Road” (1976, Germany), C. “The Hustle,” C-. “Cold War” (Poland), C-. “Serenity,” C-. “Suspiria” (2018), D+. “Glass,” D+. “The Dead Don’t Die,” D. “Welcome to Marwen,” D-. “Rollerball” (2002), F. — 3-22-19

I caught up with two hard to track down and highly reputable Wim Wenders films from the 1970’s, the black & white “Kings of the Road” (1976) and the Patricia Highsmith adaptation “The American Friend” (1977). Neither met my expectations, but one was certainly more enjoyable than the other. “Kings” was the one I had higher anticipation for because Roger Ebert named it one of the ten best films of the 1970’s. But it’s a shaggy, unshaped movie with long pit stops that don’t propel much thought, and much though won’t happen when it’s about two layabout guys who keep their emotions inward and only sporadically share. Some beautiful b&w, and I love one scene where the men put on a sihlouette show in a movie theater. But it’s largely inert. “The American Friend” has Bruno Ganz as an art framer dying of a blood disease who gets talked into performing a mob hit so the payoff would help his surviving family. A spaced out Dennis Hopper in a cowboy hat plays middle man Tom Ripley, the most famous sociopath of Highsmith’s characters, but that’s not the loopiest thing. The deliberate withholding of plot details is what’s nuts. We don’t know a thing about the targets or what they represent or why do a hit in daylight on a train? But Wenders would probably say that’s not the point. Still, there’s a strange romanticism about Ganz in the way the new chaos in his life lights him up, and the cinematography is equally radiant. “Kings of the Road,” C. “The American Friend,” B. — 3-21-19

Best Black & White Cinematography Ever: 1. “Raging Bull” (1980); 2. “Citizen Kane” (1941); 3. “Schindler’s List” (1993); 4. “The Third Man” (1949); 5. The Elephant Man” (1980); 6. “Persona” (1966, Sweden); 7. “Woman in the Dunes” (1964, Japan); 8. “Dr. Strangelove” (1964); 9. “Ed Wood” (1994); 10. “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948); 11. “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946); 12. “Eraserhead” (1977); 13. “Repulsion” (1965); 14. “Paths of Glory” (1957); 15. “Lenny” (1974); 16. “Metropolis” (1927, Germany); 17. “The Man with a Movie Camera” (1929, Russia); 18. “Manhattan” (1979); 19. “8 1/2” (1963, Italy); 20. “The Last Picture Show” (1971); 21. “The Scarlett Empress” (1934); 22. “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955); 23. “Sunrise” (1927); 24. “Pleasantville” (1998); 25. “Night of the Hunter” (1955). No, “Roma” does not this list nor would it make the next five. — 3-19-19

Best films directed by women ever: 1. “Testament” (1983, Lynne Littman); 2. “The Piano” (1993, Jane Campion); 3. “Detroit” (2017, Kathryn Bigelow); 4. “Monster” (2003, Patty Jenkins); 5. “Take This Waltz” (2012, Sarah Polley); 6. “Half Nelson” (2006, Anna Boden co-directed with Ryan Fleck); 7. “Orlando” (1993, Sally Potter); 8. “The Hurt Locker” (2009, Kathryn Bigelow); 9. “True Love” (1989, Nancy Savoca); 10. Battle of the Sexes (2017, Valerie Faris co-directed with Jonathan Dayton); 11. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (2011, Lynne Ramsay); 12. “High Life” (2019, France, Claire Denis); 13. “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” (2005, Jane Anderson); 14. “13th” (2016, Ava DuVernay); 15. “Waitress” (2007, Adrienne Shelley); 16. “Lost in Translation” (2003, Sofia Coppola); 17. “Big” (1988, Penny Marshall); 18. “Polisse” (2011, France, Maiwenn); 19. “Seven Beauties” (1976, Italy, Lina Wertmuller); 20. “Home” (2010, France, Ursula Meier). — Last Updated 4-16-19

Julianne Moore bemoaned that she was fired by Nicole Holofcener who was to be director, before she dropped out of, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Holofcener retained credit as screenwriter.) I’m sure this is just an offhand remark that irks Moore deep inside. She’s one of this generation’s best actresses with “Safe,” “Far From Heaven” and “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” that are among the best performances I’ve ever seen. But if she had remained the lead, one of last year’s most enjoyable throwbacks of an era would have lost something definitive without Melissa McCarthy.  Feelings get hurt in this industry (how ’bout those who get a shot, lose a job, and never get another shot?), so again… McCarthy rules that movie. It had to be her. 3-8-19

Oscars. No one bothered to foresee that voting for “Green Book” would outrage a lot of people and set up a controversy when there is Spike Lee and “BlacKkKlansman,” a true virtuoso and intellectual odyssey, was the one to honor if we’re talking about doing the right thing.

Nothing has ever reeked of fake sophistication than the adoration bestowed unto “Roma.” When Alfonso Cuaron won for Best Director, he spoke of “his duty to raise awareness worker’s rights throughout the world” in a way he implied his film. Nowhere in “Roma” does it say anything in regards to that, not that the film says anything interesting at all. Cleo the maid gets pregnant by a young bad guy and that rotten ordeal of carrying his baby will probably extinguish sex from her the rest of her life, and that’s sad. But Cleo works for a good family, not a bad one. What should the matriarch do, banish her and leave her severance package and say to her, hey leave and go do something else on your own?

What was more lyrical and romantic than the music score for “If Beale Street Could Talk?” Nothing in many years was as aching, tragic, luminous, bittersweet as that score. It not winning might prove Academy voters did not actually see previous Oscar winner Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk.” And last, “Bohemian Rhapsody” winning for Best Film Editing means that Academy voters at large do not actually know what good editing is. I could name twenty-five films in under a minute that had better editing last year. — 2-25-19

Film Recommendation: “I Am Not Your Negro.” I’ve always wanted to know more about novelist, film & arts critic and social critic James Baldwin, so when I finally buckled down to see what I was expecting to be a “heavy” and “lecturing” documentary, instead I got mind-expanding enlightenment. This is not just an old clips archival construction of Baldwin and his when’s and where’s, this is an excavation through his mind. Early Point: “Negro” is the other N-word, not as ugly but just as debasing. Baldwin, a great intellectual more than I knew, had a dissecting, influential analysis on racial matters that speak of not just then in the 1960’s and 70’s, but seemingly his past voice seems to speak to the now.

“People in general cannot bear very much reality… they prefer fantasy to a truthful recreation of their experience. People have quite enough reality to bear, by simply getting through their lives, raising their children, dealing with the eternal conundrums of birth, taxes and death.” — James Baldwin, “I Am Not Your Negro.” — 2-10-19

Movies I Saw Winter 2019: “Vox Lux,” A. “Mary Poppins” (1964), A. “Zodiac” (2007), A. “13th” (2016), A. “Burning” (South Korea), A. “I Am Not Your Negro,” A-. “Fahrenheit 11/9,” A-. “Saturday Night Fever” (1977), A-. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008), B+. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (1988), B+. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” B+. “At Eternity’s Gate,” B+. “Big Fish” (2003), B+. “Vice,” B. “Bird Box,” B. “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006), B.  “The House That Jack Built,” B. “A Simple Favor,” B. “The Wife,” B. “Don’t Think Twice,” B. “Greta,” B. “Mary Poppins Returns,” B-. “Escape Room,” B-. “Three Frontiers,” B-. “Oculus” (2013), B-. “Private Life,” B-. “Devil in a Blue Dress” (1995), C+. “High Flying Bird,” C+. “Bad Times at the El Royale,” C+. “Gringo,” C+. “The Changeover,” C+. “Captain MarvelC. “Support the Girls,” C. “Letters to Juliet” (2010), C. “Mouse Hunt” (1997), C. “Miss Bala” (2019), C. “Burnt” (2015), C. “The Pelican Brief” (1993), C. “Velvet Buzzsaw,” C-. “Miss Bala” (2011, Mexico), D+. “Winchester,” D+. “The Portrait of a Lady” (1996), D+. “Destination Wedding,” D. “Christopher Robin,” D. “Trespass Against Us,” D-. “One On One” (2014, South Korea), F. It took time to process, but “Vox Lux” became the most lacerating and unforgettable film of recent times. A masterpiece it takes time reckoning with. — 1-24-19

Ten Best Films 2018: 1. Annihilation; 2. A Star is Born; 3. Mission: Impossible — Fallout; 4. BlacKkKlansman; 5. Vox Lux; 6. The Favourite; 7. Hereditary; 8. Eighth Grade; 9. Loveless (Russia); 10. If Beale Street Could Talk. Read the comprehensive recap.

Walkabout” (1971). I will repeatedly watch it and find myself spellbound every time. A brother and sister are lost in the Australian Outback with little chance for survival but are saved by a Aborigine boy on his yearlong exodus, he’s supposed to be alone so he mature from childhood to manhood. It was just filmed in the most strangely beautiful places I’ve ever seen that could never be repeated, and it had such abstract imagery too that made you draw up themes on your head on modernism vs. primalism, it had this free association quality, and for a hundred other reasons it was my favorite film. Nicolas Roeg, the director, has died at age 90. I also admired his horror film “Don’t Look Now” which had an ending that made you gasp like “The Sixth Sense,” the David Bowie sci-fi mindbender “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” and the Roald Dahl adaptation of “The Witches.” Roeg, RIP. — 11-25-18

“Black Mirror” is the best TV series ever made and it’s not even close. More than just episodes, they are films. Nineteen so far as of October 2018 (more are being made), and they are greatest pieces of cinema than what’s at the multiplex for the most part. With no theatrical projections to worry about, writer Charlie Brooker can go as dark and cerebral as he wants with endings that don’t have to cater to some demographic. What is “Black Mirror?” It’s like waking up in the year 2080, turning on the TV and asking, “I wonder if anybody has made anything better than The Twilight Zone by now?” And the answer is, Yes! They have! But with a technology consuming us spin and where it’s leading us. “Play Test” is the weakest of the nineteen, and even that has merits and is worth a look.

Top Ten Black Mirror films: 1. “San Junipero.” 2. “Be Right Back.” 3. “Hated in the Nation.” 4. “White Bear.” 5. “Crocodile.” 6. “The National Anthem.” 7. “The Entire History of You.” 8. “Fifteen Million Merits.” 9. “Arkangel.” 10. “Nosedive.” Observe my number one, but, this is important: Do not make that the first episode you ever see. See a handful of others first to get accustomed to “Black Mirror” rudiments first. Find them on Netflix streaming. — 10-25-18

Movies I Saw Fall 2018: “A Star is Born” (2018), A+. “The Favourite,” A. “Eighth Grade,” A. “If Beale Street Could Talk,” A. “First Reformed,” A. “To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985), A-. “Papillon” (1973), A-. “In the Shadow of the Moon” (2007), A-. “Green Book,” B+. “Whitney,” B+. “Widows,” B+. “Ransom” (1996), B+. “Sorry To Bother You,” B+. “Chunhyang” (2000, South Korea), B+. “Oceans” (2009), B+. “The Hate U Give,” B. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” B. “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” B. “The Children Act,” B. “Set It Off” (1996), B. “Marty” (1955), B. “The Witch” (2016), B. “For All Mankind” (1989), B. “Cache” (2005, France), B-. “Blindspotting,” B-. “Shoplifters” (Japan), B-. “First They Killed My Father,” B-. “American Graffiti” (1973), B-. “Gerald’s Game,” B-. “Lifeforce” (1985), B-. “Ringu” (1998, Japan), B-. “Miles Ahead,” B-. “Leave No Trace,” C+. “Under the Skin” (2013), C+. “Roma,” C+. “The Blob” (1988), C+. “Backbeat” (1994), C+. “Life of the Party,” C+. “Maudie,” C+. “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” C+. “The Sting” (1973), C+. “First Man,” C. “Papillon” (2018), C. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” C. “Eating Raoul” (1982), C. “Adrift,” C. “Train to Busan” (2016, South Korea), C. “Goya’s Ghosts” (2006), C-. “Vanity Fair” (2004), C-. “Mandy,” D. “Into the Woods” (2014), D. “The Fire Within” (1963, France), D. “Gotti,” D-. When I saw “First Reformed” last May I gave it a B+. After a second viewing, which gives way to enhanced appreciation, stirring ever deepening complexities, I now give it a A and think its one of the year’s standouts. 10-2-18, Updated Frequently

I learned there is a three-hour plus cut of an all-time favorite movie of mine just released on home video, Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.” Yet it’s not really a director’s cut, just a longer cut doodle. Supposedly it fills in the gaps of the narrative, by doing so, losing that amorphous mysterious quality. Tempting, but I honestly don’t think I’m pursuing it. I see myself re-watching the 139 minute original as it was first intended before anything else. — 9-28-18

Movies I Saw Summer 2018: “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” A. “BlacKkKlansman,” A. “The Ballad of Narayama” (1983, Japan), A.  “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” A. “Loveless” (Russia), A. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” A.”Get Me Roger Stone,” A. “Oklahoma City,” A-. “The Rider,” A-. “Seven Beauties” (1976, Italy), A-. “White Heat” (1949), A-. “Vengeance is Mine” (1979, Japan), A-. “El Norte” (1983), A-. “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” B+.  “Chappaquiddick,” B+. “The Doctor” (1991), B+. “The Bleeding Edge,” B+. “Filmworker,” B+. “Crazy Rich Asians,” B+. “Tomb Raider,” B. “Unsane,” B. “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” (2003), B. “Elena” (2012, Russia), B. “Searching,” B. “The B-Side: Else Dorfman’s Portrait Photography,” B. “Black Rain” (1990, Japan), B. “Bad Match,” B. “Tully,” B. “A Room with a View” (1986), B. “Mudbound,” B-. “Mamma Mia!” (2008), B-. “Man in the Moon” (1999), B-. “Ocean’s 8,” B-. “The Meyerowitz Stories,” B-. “The Day After” (1983), B-. “Bringing Up Baby” (1938), B-. “The Predator,” C+. “Upgrade,” C+. “Breaker Morant” (Australia, 1980), C+. “The Other Boleyn Girl” (2008), C+. “Lean on Pete,” C+. “American Animals,” C+. “Borg vs. McEnroe,” C. “I Feel Pretty,” C. “My Life” (1993), C. “Revenge” (France), C-. “Looker” (1981), C-. “A Wrinkle in Time,” D+. “Gosford Park” (2001), D. “Color of Night” (1994), D-. “Zama” (Argentina), D-. “Isle of Dogs,” D-. There is nothing more addictive to me right now than the repeat viewings I’ve had with “Get Me Roger Stone,” which may have the best angle on documenting Trump’s ascent into politics… Yes, “Bringing Up Baby” is really a B-. If it were in color and came out in 2018 instead of 1938, we’d call it patched together storytelling, we’d call many of the characters bird-brained, slightly annoying and not nearly as brilliant as we’d like it to be; what it’s got going for it is Cary Grant’s star power and a calling card on Katherine Hepburn’s trademark shtick, and overall, a few chuckles. “BlacKkKlansman” is one of Spike Lee’s three best films ever. — 6-26-18, Updated Frequently

I place “BlacKkKlansman” among Spike Lee’s three best films of his career, just behind “Malcolm X” (1992) and “Do the Right Thing” (1989). What I didn’t have space in my review is to talk about Lee’s bravado, and hindsight wisdom, in criticizing “Gone with the Wind” (1939) and “Birth of a Nation” (1915). Those are films I’ve always felt icky over, and I’ve always brushed them off with no desire to revisit them, not even mentally revisit them. With the former, he actually starts his own film with “GWTW” footage (see right pic), and we see a racist figure played by Alec Baldwin slavering over its “importance” for segregation and a White America. More uncanny is Lee’s use of the latter, “BOTN” as a bedrock for KKK ideology, all its members fired up while watching it — and it was right there I saw how much damage D.W. Griffith has done with influencing white aggressors to inflict harm on “doltish” or “simpleton” or “trouble-making” blacks, and it found a way to permeate into the DNA hate of society. Lee’s inclusion of these “classics” that are really hogwash, was an important feat by the filmmaker. By the way, “BlacKkKlansman” is one of the best film editing jobs of the year, in every facet of what makes great film editing. Final admission, his documentary “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” (2006) is my fourth favorite Lee work. — 8-15-18

Grading the Mission: Impossible movies: “Mission: Impossible” (1996), B+. “Mission: Impossible II” (2000), C. “Mission: Impossible III” (2006), B-. “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” (2011), A. “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” (2015), A. “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” (2018), A. — 7-30-18

“My Life” (1993), a comedy-drama (mostly drama) about a dying man leaving videos to his unborn son, is not a good movie IMO. But what’s amazing is that it was a box office success in its time when today it would be D.O.A. Michael Keaton as a badass cynical advertising exec is in full unlikeable mode for fifty-five minutes until he starts reconciling his life, and Nicole Kidman is just fine but isn’t called upon to be a method actress or anything. I like the film only for an abstract reason: It wouldn’t get a greenlight in today’s times. It exists at a particular point in time when Hollywood said what the heck, we’ll make this. — 6-25-18

It was nearly thirty years since I first saw “El Norte” (1983). Its’ flaws were ever more apparent (couldn’t director Gregory Nava shown the border crossing from Guatemala into Mexico? couldn’t Nava have gotten a better camera angle on the final flash cut? not to mention, there’s a little bit too much protagonist naivete at times). Yet it has incomparable scope for an immigration epic as the brother and sister hustle their way up north and go through excruciating circumstances to illegally cross the U.S. border. The film is both a time capsule and a reflection of lives in the current times of now, and anybody with empathy for those who have nothing and looking to survive even if it means crossing borders into what is supposed to be the Land of Dreams, has to see this at some time or another. The bottom line is the film gets very personal, and we witness struggle and humility close up, and that’s why it’s great. Grade: A-. — 6-16-18

The movie news around the world right now is that “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (see review) took in a very disappointing $84.4 million at the domestic box office and is considered a failure, or to some, a bomb. Sorry, but when is eighty-four million dollars not eighty-four million dollars? Wake up, that’s a ton of money! The eighty-four million take does not mean it’s going to close next week. It has also made more money than my three favorite movies last year combined. What’s worrisome, though, is that it is supposedly the ninth most expensive movie ever made on record ($250 million production budget). I hate these news mongers saying eighty-four is a low take, since we still have a couple weekends for it to haul in more. These news stories (“It’s a disappointment!”) will probably do more damage in dissuading people from going than if no news stories ever existed around the movie. But let me offer some advice to the studio even though my advice will probably just drift out into the vacuum of space without being heard: If you’re worried about recouping $250 million on a movie, don’t waste millions filming an idiotic scene where a giant space lizard that’s too big to fit the screen eats spaceships and flotsam — and really, what else? how does this thing even survive? — when it should have been cut from the script. — 5-30-18

Academy Award-winning director Barry Levinson (“Rain Man”) now makes better movies on HBO than he makes theatrical ones. On HBO, “Paterno” has smart, taut directing and features Al Pacino in one of his best performances as a coach who loved wins, loved his players accomplishing their academics off the field, but put up blinders to a terrible ongoing years crime because he could not confront bad news. “You Don’t Know Jack” also with Pacino was Levinson’s other remarkable HBO movie. You have to go back to 1997’s “Wag the Dog” for Levinson’s last great theatrical movie which still holds up to excellence. UPDATE: I caught up later with Levinson’s made for HBO “The Wizard of Lies,” the bio on Bernie Madoff, the biggest Ponzi schemer in U.S. history, and was even more impressed. More than just a summation of events of 2008, it gets deeper as it goes and seals all the cracks of what was still not widely known. This is also the most accomplished, thicketed performance by Robert DeNiro in ages. — 5-16-18

What I Saw Spring 2018: “The Greatest Showman,” A. “Hereditary,” A. “First Reformed,” A. “Children of Men” (2006), A-. “The Wizard of Lies,” A-. “You Were Never Really Here,” B+. “Paterno,” B+. “2 Days in the Valley (1996), B+. “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” (2010), B+. “Bone Tomahawk,” B+. “All The Money In The World,” B. “Personal Shopper” (France), B. “My Friend Dahmer,” B. “Dahmer” (2002), B. “Ready Player One,” B. “Fear” (1996), B. “Freeway” (1997), B.”The Big Sick,” B. “Glory Road” (2006), B. “A Quiet Place,” B. “Scarecrow” (1973), B. “Kate & Leopold (2001), B. “Police Story” (1985, China), B. “Romance & Cigarettes” (2007), B. “Paddington 2,” B. “Disclosure” (1994), B-. “Masquerade” (1988), B-. “Ruby in Paradise” (1993), B-. “Deadpool 2,” B-. “Faces Places” (France), B-. “Blaze” (1989), C+. “The Infiltrator,” C+. “The 15:17 to Paris,” C+. “Paddington,” (2014), C+. “Fahrenheit 451,” C+. “Jane Got a Gun,” C+. “Coco,” C+. “Looking for Richard” (1996), C+. “Clean” (2004, France), C. “Art School Confidential” (2006), C. “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” C. “Overboard,” C. “Proud Mary,” C. “The Yards” (2000), C. “Hesher” (2010), C-. “Box of Moonlight” (1997), C-. “Den of Thieves,” D+. “Age of Consent” (1969), D+. “Bobby Deerfield” (1977), D. “Vanya on 42nd Street” (1994), D. “Wonderstruck,” D. I saw “The Greatest Showman” twice in two days; it’s a terrific family movie and the music gets addictive after repeat viewings (I keep bumping up its value, I’m falling in love with it)… I last saw it in 1996 and I liked it then, but in hindsight, “2 Days in the Valley” is better than just good and seems to be to me the best of the “Pulp Fiction” imitations during the rest of the 1990’s when knock-offs had become inundated when laboriously copying a Quentin Tarantino masterpiece had become an indie circle obsession. I update this blog regularly as I see more movies. — 4-5-18

Fiftieth anniversary of the granddaddy of science fiction, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I saw “2001” before I was ten years old and I hold on to the belief that it shaped my intelligence and formed the way I think around abstract ideas. For many years it was my “all-time” favorite movie. Years later, the 1971 “Walkabout” and the 2003 Korean film “Spring Summer Fall Winter… and Spring” became to me what I feel are the two greatest films ever made. That’s not to say “2001” doesn’t remain powerful and revolutionary, as well as evolutionary in my thinking, to this day. In modern times, there’s always a couple handful of great movies every year if you look hard enough. But there’s almost never a film that pushes the envelope in such a transcendental way as “2001” which still remains, outlandishly, so very artistically ahead of our time now. Terrence Malick accomplished something transcendental with “The Tree of Life” in 2011. But my God, so rare. — 4-2-18

There’s one on-going box office behemoth in 2018 and it’s “Black Panther.” I’d be lying if I didn’t say that annoyed the hell out of me, since “Annihilation” (pic right) has had nowhere near any of that good fortune even though it’s one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made. “Annihilation” contains images and ideas that have never been seen before (it’s also the most genuinely scared I’ve been at a movie in ten years), while “Black Panther” is no different from the hundred or more other Marvel comic book movies or CGI-laden blockbusters that have come before it. Audiences would rather see a new coat of paint on an inartistic dead horse rather than have their minds blown. Whatever. — 3-16-18

Hollywood decided to vote on “The Shape of Water” as Best Picture and Best Director because they knew somewhere in the world that would piss me off. So I disliked the movie, I mean, every time it does come up with a beautiful shot it’s held for about two and a half seconds. I admired forty or forty-five other movies way more last year. But the one consolation out of it is Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar speech was a beauty. – 3-5-18

Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) wins the Oscar in what was the lamest Best Actor race since 1977. — 3-4-18

Annihilation” is my first 5-star masterpiece review off the 2018 roster. — 2-28-18

I imagine an irate reader out there wondering how I could give “The Commuter” 3-stars and “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” 2 stars. My reasoning is that “The Commuter” on its own terms is an unpretentious genre piece, very watchable with a relatable Liam Neeson, is something I honestly had a good time at, while “Star Wars Episode VIII” is another entry I’m expected to write a bunch of excuses for, that has only a few moments that got my heart thumping, and inevitably soured me because I feel like the series betrayed what Luke Skywalker is supposed to stand for. Do you really want a jaded, mentally deteriorated Skywalker? And yeah, the series is soap opera deep while being pretentious at the same time. On its own terms, “The Last Jedi” is a declination to the series. — 1-21-18

Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit” tops my list as the Best Film of 2017. Read my year-end round up here. The best lead performances I saw this year were Colin Farrell in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and Frances McDormand in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and the best supporting performances I saw were Willem Dafoe in “The Florida Project” and Kirsten Dunst in “The Beguiled.”  — 1-5-18

Best Films 1973: 1. The Exorcist; 2. The Last Detail; 3. Don’t Look Now; 4. Mean Streets; 5. Cries and Whispers (Sweden); 6. Badlands; 7. Papillon; 8. Paper Moon; 9. The Emigrants (Sweden); 10. Day for Night (France). Admittedly, I need to give American Graffiti another chance. Update: I find early sections of AG soporific but there are later portions I admire. Far outside of my top ten for that year, though. — 1-4-18

What I Saw Winter 2018: “Annihilation,” A+. “Battle of the Sexes,” A. “The Bridges of Madison County” (1995), A-. “The Post,” A-. “Brawl in Cell Block 99,” A-. “Phantom Thread,” B+. “Leviathan” (2014, Russia), B+. “The Arrival” (1996), B+. “The Square” (2017, Sweden), B+. “I, Daniel Blake,” B+. “Marshall,” B+. “Brad’s Status,” B. “Game Night,” B. “Happy Death Day,” B. “Red Sparrow,” B. “Lucky,” B. “The Invitation” (2015), B. “Good Time,” B. “Wonder,” B. “Son of Saul” (2015, Hungary), B-. “Last Flag Flying,” B-. “The Light Between Oceans,” B-. “Shadow of the Vampire” (2000), B-. “Roman J Israel, Esq.,” B-. “The Commuter,” B-. “Darkest Hour,” C+. “The Bad Batch,” C+. “Star Wars Episode XIII: The Last Jedi,” C. “The Shape of Water,” C. “Call Me By Your Name,” C. “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House,” C. “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” C. “Home Again,” D+. “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” D+. “It,” D. “CHIPS,” F. “The Snowman,” F. Caught up to it late, but “Battle of the Sexes” now takes the crown as the most underrated movie of 2017. “It” became for me the WTF how-did-that-garbage-become-a-blockbuster-!?! movie of this past year; let it be known though I love Stephen King. I wish someone would adapt his best book, “The Long Walk.” Oh, and after several weeks of mulling over it, I’ve now decided “The Bad Batch” is one of the most interesting bad movies I’ve ever seen. It’s pickled in flaws, but if you’re curious enough, just see it. I update this blog regularly as I see more movies. — 1-2-2018

Previous Years Archives

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