Critic’s Mind 2018

 

 

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: “Children of Men” (2006), A-. “The Greatest Showman,” A-. “The Wizard of Lies,” A-. “You Were Never Really Here,” B+. “2 Days in the Valley (1996), B+. “Paterno,” B+. “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” (2010), B+. “All The Money In The World,” B. “My Friend Dahmer,” B. “Dahmer” (2002), B. “Ready Player One,” B. “The Big Sick,” B. “Fear” (1996), B. “Freeway” (1997), B. “Glory Road” (2006), B. “A Quiet Place,” B. “Police Story” (1985, China), B. “Romance & Cigarettes” (2007), B. “Paddington 2,” B. “Disclosure” (1994), B-. “Masquerade” (1988), B-. “Bone Tomahawk,” B-. “Faces Places” (France), B-. “Blaze” (1989), C+. “The Infiltrator,” C+. “Fahrenheit 451,” C+. “Jane Got a Gun,” C+. “Coco,” C+. “Looking for Richard” (1996), C+. “Art School Confidential,” 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. “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 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

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. “Wonder,” B. “Good Time,” 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. — 1-4-2018

 

Previous Years Archives

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Overboard

We are more watered down and PC-minded now than we were thirty years ago. Being all morally abundant and righteous and message-heavy does not make our movie comedies better. The makers of Overboard probably really wanted to do a remake of the 1987 Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell yukfest, but the way the movie carries itself […]

 
 

You Were Never Really Here

In many ways, it’s an innovative work that you wish would not be that maddeningly opaque with you. You Were Never Really Here features Joaquin Phoenix in an outstanding performance as a very dangerous […]

 
 

A Quiet Place

I counted some clichés, but the suspense is so effective that I easily suspended disbelief. Invincible monsters that now rule the Earth have wiped out most of civilization (how much extinction is hard to say) in A Quiet Place. The key survivors are […]

 
 

Ready Player One

Third-tier Steven Spielberg, yet third-tier by him are better than most of his contemporaries best efforts. Ready Player One is one respect is about video games fandom which is not something I’m interested in. Except in the year 2045, the real world is so filthy […]

 
 

Red Sparrow

If you’re like me and you thought “Salt” with Angelina Jolie and [especially] “Atomic Blonde” with Charlize Theron were bulls*** than here we have something more true to life with a truly magnetic Jennifer Lawrence to boot. Red Sparrow is based on a novel by […]

 
 

Annihilation

So frightening it pains only to turn your eyes away. Annihilation is hard science fiction that is a crossbreed of horror, too, and it has enough ideas to fill a dozen movies. It does not hurl constant action movie type of Roland Emmerich moments at you because it’s strategy is to build anticipation and dread a la Kubrick and Cronenberg […]

 
 

Game Night

Lots of laughs, lots of creative visuals. Game Night wisely casts Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams together as married couple Max and Annie who have gone childless, perhaps because their weekly party games are not to be interrupted […]

 
 

Black Panther

All the hype led me to believe it was going to be a whole lot of level different. No it’s not. Black Panther is just more of the Marvel Comic Book same. From the get-go, it’s so preoccupied being sensational at every single moment that it never gets grounded […]

 
 

Den of Thieves

Den of Thieves is such a flagrant rip-off of the 1995 modern classic “Heat” that it leaves one to count off the good qualities and the bad. Recapturing the grainy neo-neon look […]

 
 

The Commuter

The first action-suspense pic for the new year is a diverting midlevel yarn, it’s no genre trendsetter (more derivative if anything), but it’s got Liam Neeson going for it and tasteful mindless fun going for it. The Commuter is Neeson’s umpteenth take since […]

 
 

Proud Mary

How stylish is the wannabe blaxploitation pic Proud Mary starring that firecracker of a talent Taraji P. Henson? It has those schlocky but jivey opening animated credits that turns its’ circa 1970’s Foxy Brown-like character into a wannabe […]

 
 

Paddington 2

Light-hearted and charming adventures with the benevolent British bear. Paddington 2 is always crisp and clean visually, and there’s a paper mache pop-up book sequence that is quite beautiful […]