20 thoughts on “Movies 2018

  1. Bright (2017)
    Dir. David Ayer
    Starring: Will Smith, Joe Edgerton, etc.

    I think Penny would like this, and probably Grace, at least a little. I’m not sure about others like Mitchell, Don, Joel, or Jill, but I suspect they’ll like it at least a little. I think their reaction will depend on their expectations. For what it’s worth, Larri and I had really low expectations. (Larri liked it.)

    Undoubtedly, those low expectations contributed significantly to my enjoyment. (For what it’s worth, my score probably reflects my enjoyment more than a more intersubjective evaluation of the film.) I feel like others would sympathize with me, if you’ve seen the trailer. Smith is an LA police officer, who is paired with an orc partner. Yes, orc as in Lord of the Rings orc. In my view the premise doesn’t seem promising, and the trailer did little to disabuse me of that feeling.

    But how do I explain my enjoyment of the film? I’m not sure I can adequately explain it, but I would mention a few things. First of all, I mentioned Lord of the Rings. Imagine our world now, if Middle Earth and similar events from Tolkien’s books actually occurred thousands of years ago. That describes the world of the film. I suspect that won’t really convince anyone. I guess I would say that the film makes the premise work, or at least avoids appearing ridiculous.

    Another reason I liked this has to do with some of the characters, particularly the villains. They were quite good in this in my opinion. Finally, I liked the story line and one aspect of that involves the fantasy element. I’ll say more in the next paragraph.

    Two thousand years ago a battle of nine armies (like in The Hobbit occurred, involving a Dark Lord (which sounds like Sauron). The orcs decided to side with the Dark Lord, and all of them were defeated via the use of magic. The orcs are now social outcasts because of this incident. In the present day, three elves plan to bring the Dark Lord back, and they’ll do so using magic wands. These wands have the power to grant wishes, but only special individuals known as “Brights” can wield the wands. Smith and his partner get themselves caught up in this.

  2. I don’t know if this is really a movie, more like a TV program, but whatever it was, it was a list of the fifty worst movies of all time. The production was kinda shoddy, almost as like a local TV movie critic putting the whole thing together. Anyway, I wanted to mention one of the movies on the list, Smokey and the Bandit III. I knew there was a sequel, and I vaguely recalled a part 3. Burt Reynold’s isn’t in this film, but Jackie Gleason is, reprising his role as Sherriff Bufford T. Justice. But here’s what I didn’t know: Jackie Gleason originally also played the role of Bandit! That is so outrageous, a part of me is really curious to see the film. Unfortunately, at some point, the filmmakers changed their minds (came to their senses?) and had Jerry Reed, who played the Snowman in the first two films, play the part of Bandit. Still kinda weird, but not as much.

  3. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2017)
    Dir. Steve James

    This is a Frontline documentary about the only bank the federal government prosecuted after the 2008 financial crash. One bank employee committed fraud in this bank–Abacus, a small bank serving mostly Chinese-Americans, run by a Chinese-American family, and while the immediately fired the employee, quickly reported the incident to regulators, and cooperate with the U.S. District Attorney, the latter eventually prosecuted them. The film chronicles what happened, including the trial of the Abacus.

    Some comments:

    1. Based on what I saw, I think the prosecution made a big mistake, failing to use a sense of proportionality when deciding whether to prosecute the bank. Here’s how I understand a sense of proportionality and why it’s important. First, while many crimes are committed, the criminal justice system cannot prosecute all crimes, due to limited resources. Because of that, prioritizing which cases to pursue is the most sensible response to this reality. To do this, one has to look at several factors–the most serious crimes, causing the most harm; the practicality of successful prosecution, etc. The fact that laws were broken become far less important; every case the criminal justice system prosecutes would presumably involve law breaking. But since the system can’t prosecute every case, they have to prioritize. In this case, the U.S. Attorney really seemed to fail in this sort of calculation and analysis. To wit, Abacus’s loans were extremely dependable–Fanny Mae or their investors didn’t suffer any harm. On the other hand, bigger banks did cause a lot of damage.

    2. I’m curious about James’s decision to associate the Sung family with the Bailey’s in It’s a Wonderful Life as a comparison. I’m hoping he felt absolutely confident that this association was appropriate and accurate.

  4. Black Panther (2018)
    Dir. Ryan Coogler

    This is one of the better superhero movies–or, more specifically, one of the more enjoyable ones that I’ve seen in a long time. (Then again, I liked Civil War.)

    Some general comments below.

    I really like the costumes/clothing in this.

    I liked the casting of Bozeman and Jordan–Jordan was especially effective I thought.

    I think this would have made for a great TV series–which would allow the filmmakers to create and explore richer, more complex characters and themes. I could definitely see certain moral questions explored a lot more. If they were ambitious they could also develop the culture, civilization of Wakanda (something like a Tolkien treatment would have been awesome).

    This is a terrific film for African-American viewers, especially young people. Also, I think it could be a positive experience for young female viewers.


    One other thing. The non-superhero aspects of the film were the most interesting to me.

  5. Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
    Dir. Julius Onah

    I actually enjoyed the film a little more than the score indicates–which is both something weird and something I can’t explain. I’d say it’s a decent Saturday night TV movie.

    Earth has a major energy crisis. To solve it a group of scientists are working on an experiment that will lead to almost unlimited energy source. The problem is that doing so could create strange disturbances in space and time.

    One of the things I liked about the film was the way it indirectly connects with the other Cloverfield movies.

  6. We often disagree, but I think we agree more than you think–especially you think the occasions of our agreement are near zero.

  7. This is not my real review, but something I shared for a thing at work. Might as well post it since I don’t seem to be writing reviews lately. Ugh.

    Black Panther (2018)

    The world thinks Wakanda is among the poorest nations on the planet, but this is a deception by Wakanda to protect a secret: it is a technologically advanced country with enormous natural wealth hidden aggressively from outsiders. “Black Panther” is the story of how T’Challa becomes the new king of Wakanda, fends off challengers to the throne, and struggles with unpleasant truths about his country’s relationships with other nations.

    As stories go, it’s on the north end of okay. Yet it looks and feels unlike anything in theaters, possibly ever. “Black Panther” is fresh creativity spray-painted over every surface and into every cranny of a film when people of different cultures, ages, backgrounds, and artistic sensibilities are (finally!) given the freedom to make something cool. The costumes, makeup, effects, dialogue, characters, acting, and music testify to untapped, underrepresented resources for movies that don’t look or feel like everything else in theaters.

    73 out of 100 from me because of my first paragraph, but see it because of my second.

  8. Yet it looks and feels unlike anything in theaters, possibly ever.

    At first this took me a little by surprise, as it’s not one of the impressions of the film that comes to mind. But the more I think about it, the more I sympathize with this. I’m not sure if we’re thinking of this in the same way, but this is a Hollywood blockbuster movie that invests a significant amount of pride and glory in African-American. If the role of blacks and whites were reversed in our country, this might be a typical Hollywood blockbuster. I can’t think of another Hollywood blockbuster that puts African-Americans at the center of the film and celebrates them to the degree that this film does. This is one of the thing I liked most about the movie.

    I sort of agree with you about the story, but I like T’challa and his family and the Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger. I think the story and character development could have been better, especially if had the time of a TV series.

  9. Mute (2018)
    Dir. Duncan Jones

    I really liked Moon and Source Code, so I was excited to see this, especially since I read that this was the film Jones really wanted to make. (In my experience this is not necessarily a good thing, but I always seem to forget this.)

    In an Bladerunner landscape, a mute, former-Amish bartender searches for his lover, a waitress that may have a sketchy past. It’s an interesting idea, and both of these characters and their love for each other were fairly compelling. Some of the villains in this weren’t very effective, especially the casting of Paul Rudd. I couldn’t really understand why the film spend the time it did on those characters.

  10. Not my real review, but last night I settled in to watch a DVD at home for the first time since the end of January. It’s been a crazy busy late winter for me.

    I saw Destin Daniel Cretton’s The Glass Castle (2017), which I moved to the top of my queue because somehow it slipped my notice that Cretton and Brie Larson had worked together again (he directed her in Short Term 12, which I was fond of).

    Critics pretty universally called it a mixed bag and I have to agree, although I’ll cut the director a little bit of slack where the critics didn’t. Larson, Woody Harrelson are really good in this, and Naomi Watts is maybe just a notch below but still solid. I can’t say I recommend it, but I wouldn’t steer anyone away from it, especially if they want to give some Hawaii love (or as in my case, hapa love) to the director. I’m probably giving it a 68 or 69 when I write my review.

    I’m eager to see Larson as Captain Marvel.

  11. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2016)
    Dir. Luc Besson

    I heard bad things about this, which wasn’t hard to believe. But for the first third of the film was a quite good action-sci-fi film. There’s one point where the film takes a wrong turn, and then never really recovers from that point. The two leads are also meh, but they weren’t ruining the film, not in the beginning anyway.

    The visuals were and action set pieces were quite good early on. In terms of the former, it had a Heavy Metal feel that I liked.

  12. Ready Player One (2018)
    Dir. Steven Spielberg

    After reading the novel, I was a little puzzled about the desire to make a film adaptation–at least not without some significant changes. Interestingly, the film makes the type of changes I had in mind, but ends up leaving me dissatisfied.

    Overall, the film felt flat, and fairly lifeless. Except for a few moments, even the visuals aren’t very interesting in my opinion.

    As is often the case, I’d recommend reading the book, at least before seeing the film.

  13. Columbus (2017)
    Dir. Kogonada

    Koganada, a pen name, which refers to a screenwriter for Ozu, has also made a film about Richard Linklater. Both details are apt because this film feels like a Linklater film that has an Ozu influence. Another loose comparison might be Lost in Translation, specifically with the nature of the relationship between the two leads played by John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson.

    As I alluded to, the film is a quiet, character-driven film–independent, but also accessible. The film takes place in Columbus, Ohio. Richardson’s character, Casey, is a fan of architecture, and Cho’s Jin, comes to Columbus to see his bed-laden father, a famous architecture critic. Both characters meet, walk, and talk–at first about architecture and then gradually about more personal matters.

    The writing and acting is solid in this for the most part, as if the cinematography.

  14. The Square (2017)
    Dir. Ruben Ostlund

    I’m not really motivated to analyze this film, which is a shame, because I think it deserves the effort. This is a Swedish(?) film that revolves the director of a modern art museum. I almost want to say that there really isn’t one main story, but a series of sub-plots and sometimes skits–all of which touch on themes relating to modern art and social issues. To be more precise, the film skewers liberals and art lovers, exposing the hypocrisy and pretentiousness. While I found the critique hilarious (with special nod the acting of Claes Bang, who I really liked), there were almost several moments that were genuinely uncomfortable and disturbing.

  15. Beyond Skyline (2017)
    Dir. Liam O’Donnell
    Starring: Frank Grillo, etc.

    Sci-fi action/thriller/horror (light on the latter) involving an alien invasion. It’s kind of a mess, specifically with improbable resolutions to tight situations. There are few good ideas in this, but I think it would need massive changes to turn into a good film.

    Grillo is an appealing lead.

  16. Columbus intrigues me. Might check it out.

    I’ve been on a slow project to watch films written by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett. They wrote Madeline (starring Frances McDormand), Wimbledon, Little Manhattan, Nim’s Island, and Journey to the Center of the Earth, and I really admire their work. Haven’t seen Wimbledon and Journey yet, but they’re up soon. I’ve had Nim’s Island on repeat for the past week or so (directors’ commentary and actors’ commentary), and it’s probably the weakest of the films I’ve seen. Still, even in that one, they’re very creative, and they find that really tough space where they neither condescend to kids nor make kids essentially little grownups.

    And even in such a seemingly safe and innocent story as Madeline, they work in a little bit of subversion. My kind of approach.

  17. I’d be surprised if you didn’t like Columbus, mildly at least.

    I don’t think I’ve heard of Levin and Flackett, although I’ve seen Wimbledon. (The one with Paul Bettany, right?)

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