Critic’s Mind 2018

 

Movies I Saw Summer 2018: “Loveless” (Russia), A-. “Get Me Roger Stone,” A-. “White Heat” (1949), A-. “El Norte” (1983), A-. “Chappaquiddick,” B+. “To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985), B+. “The Doctor” (1991), B+. “Tomb Raider,” B. “Unsane,” B. “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” (2003), B. “Elena” (2012, Russia), B. “Bad Match,” B. “Bringing Up Baby” (1938), B-. “Breaker Morant” (Australia, 1980), C+. “The Other Boleyn Girl” (2008), C+. “Lean on Pete,” C+. “Borg vs. McEnroe,” C. “I Feel Pretty,” C. “My Life” (1993), C. “Gosford Park” (2001), D. I update this blog regularly as I see more movies. 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. — 6-26-18

“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: “Hereditary,” A. “The Greatest Showman,” A. “Children of Men” (2006), A-. “The Wizard of Lies,” A-.  “First Reformed,” B+. “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. “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-. “Bone Tomahawk,” 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

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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Loveless (Russia)

I am ever so certain the winner of Best Foreign Film at the Oscars this year should have been the Russian film Loveless. I’m a liberal but liberals at large would have been outraged, I mean, how could we allow Russia to win anything […]

 
 

Scarecrow (1973)

We have seen all types of Al Pacino performances that suggest the breadth of his range. I hadn’t seen Scarecrow (1973) since I was 12-years old, but returning to it, I seemed to have gotten the final piece of the puzzle that truly defines the wizardry acting of Pacino […]

 
 

Hereditary

Last year we had “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” “Get Out,” “Raw” and “Happy Death Day.” This year, it’s even way better, we have “Annihilation” and now Hereditary. It can’t possibly be too early to say […]

 
 

First Reformed

Ethan Hawke is a priest with a crisis of conscience, and yet he is supposed to lead the celebration of when his church has its’ upcoming two hundred and fiftieth anniversary. It’s amazing it still stands since its held together by outside donations, while the modernized Abundant Life Church down the road is the one that’s popular and thriving. I’m thinking at first, how is First Reformed […]

 
 

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Another overplotted Star Wars fable. Solo: A Star Wars Story is also weighed down by the impossible task of making actor Alden Ehrenreich into a plausible young Hans Solo portrayal, which is not pulled off […]

 
 

Deadpool 2

I’m still shocked – yet not really, more like disappointed – that our culture is not burned out with superhero movie fatigue. I sure am. Despite having been overfed with superhero junk, I was taken for a loop when I fell for the offbeat R-rated Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson a.k.a. Deadpool two years ago. Now we’re back, and while Deadpool 2 is not as fresh, we still get the same foul-mouthed […]

 
 

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 […]

 
 

I Feel Pretty

There is never a problem with Amy Schumer not being able to be funny, but there is too often a problem with the movie itself being shapeless and rambling. Schumer is a New York City gal who is instantly out of place at a spin class at the start of I Feel Pretty, and it has all those awkward moments of a Plain Jane sticking out in a room full of […]

 
 

Borg vs. McEnroe

Tennis is a sport that I love, and I’ll gladly sit through any classic tennis match that’s decades old. But this docudrama too often does not do a good job. Borg vs McEnroe is about the 1980 Wimbledon Final between two opposite players, opposite in form and technique and opposite in personality […]

 
 

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 […]

 
 

Lean on Pete

A teenager with toughness and resilience carries a story that’s analog to the type of movies we got in the 1970’s. Lean on Pete follows near impoverished 15-year old Charlie (Charlie Plummer) who meets a horse race owner (Steve Buscemi) who lets […]

 
 

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 […]