Critic’s Mind 2018

 

Movies I Saw Fall 2018: “A Star is Born” (2018), A. “Eighth Grade,” A-. “In the Shadow of the Moon” (Documentary, 2007), B+. “Oceans” (Documentary, 2009), B+. “Marty” (1955), B. “For All Mankind” (Documentary, 1989), B. “Cache” (2005, France), B-. “Gerald’s Game,” B-. “Leave No Trace,” C+. “Under the Skin” (2013), C+. “Life of the Party,” C+. “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” C+. “Adrift,” C. “Train to Busan” (2016, South Korea), C. “Vanity Fair” (2004), C-. “The Fire Within” (1963, France), D. 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. “Get Me Roger Stone” (Documentary), A. “The Ballad of Narayama” (1983, Japan), A.  “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” A. “Loveless” (Russia), A-. “Oklahoma City” (Documentary), A-. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (Documentary), A-. “Seven Beauties” (1976, Italy), A-. “The Bleeding Edge” (Documentary), A-. “White Heat” (1949), A-. “Vengeance is Mine” (1979, Japan), A-. “El Norte” (1983), A-. “To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985), B+. “The Rider,” B+. “Chappaquiddick,” B+. “The Doctor” (1991), B+. “Filmworker” (Documentary), 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” (Documentary), B. “Black Rain” (1990, Japan), B. “Bad Match,” B. “Tully,” B. “A Room with a View” (1986), B. “Mudbound,” B-. “Mamma Mia!” (2008), B-. “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” 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. “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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A Star is Born

It’s the showbiz melodrama that is injected with such pitch-perfect delivery and wide-eyed perception that it blows away comparisons. A Star is Born features practically perfect performances by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper (who also directed), who both time and time again miraculously find the essence of the moment […]

 
 

Eighth Grade

Within moments I was certain the film was observant and perceptive of what it is like to be a middle school wallflower, a type of friendless teen using social media apps as a surrogate for actual life. But my question was, is Eighth Grade going to be able to consistently say something vital […]

 
 

Leave No Trace

It is an interesting film at least from the outset, and it has some compelling shots, but I was left feeling why do I need this? The father character Will (Ben Foster) deliberately has an impenetrable mind in Leave No Trace. He raises his daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) in the woods […]

 
 

The Predator

Whenever I look at an item like The Predator which is a long-gestated sequel, I wonder what is the point of making it if it cannot live up to the quality of the original, or give us a bigger terrain to work with than the original, or give us a hero as larger than life than the original […]

 
 

Searching

It’s with reluctance to approach a thriller, or any movie, that adopts the gimmick of being told through computer web cameras and smartphones. I think, A Computer Jockey Thriller! When does the curtain go down so I can take a nap!?! Yet Searching, with John Cho as a widowed father […]

 
 

Filmworker

Absolutely necessary for any card-carrying member of the Stanley Kubrick cult. Filmworker profiles Leon Vitali, a handsome raw and loose Mick Jagger type, who in the mid-seventies landed a role in Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon.” On set he impressed the master so much that […]

 
 

Crazy Rich Asians

Swank, elegant, gutsy, funny, glamorous, snobby, flashy, flaunt, chic, mod, remarkable. Crazy Rich Asians is all that and has the right modern mood and luxurious settings to qualify as a Cinderella fable, one that would be a dream come true […]

 
 

BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee is spurred to make an important but little known historical movie about 1970’s police infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs and tying it to the actions and behaviors of the fateful Charlottesville, Virginia riots of August 2017. You can feel Lee’s year-long passion and drive to getting BlacKkKlansman made […]

 
 

Mission: Impossible — Fallout

The idea of the Big Summer Blockbuster exists so that once in awhile we will see one that blows all the other competition out of the water. Mission: Impossible – Fallout continues the uptick trend in the series to become more sophisticated in its plotting. But in resemblance to a powerful drumbeat […]

 
 

The Ballad of Narayama (1983, Japan)

A despairing masterpiece, but with a keenness for sociology one watches with morbid fascination. The Ballad of Narayama (1983, Japan) appears to be a roughhewn but tranquil depiction of nineteenth century life in the mountains of Japan where families adhere to duties to keep the community functioning […]

 
 

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Harmless. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again puts together scrap pieces for a story, but what family audiences and summer lovers are really here for is the music and the dance choreography. If you love the cast, let it be shamelessly known the movie is a happy reunion […]

 
 

Best Films of 2017 Revised

I won’t remind you what inexplicably won Best Picture at the Oscars. There were 25 excellent to very good films in 2017, and so that means 25 films did not win the top prize. Whatever. Seven months into July I felt compelled to revise my year’s ten best list […]