106 thoughts on “Movies 2018

  1. Bright (2017)
    Dir. David Ayer
    Starring: Will Smith, Joe Edgerton, etc.
    73/100

    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
    68/100

    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
    74/100

    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.

    Edit

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

  5. Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
    Dir. Julius Onah
    65/100

    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
    48/100

    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
    58/100

    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
    51/100

    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
    73/100

    **
    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
    76/100

    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.
    56/100

    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?)

  18. A Quiet Place (2018)
    Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe. Directed by John Krasinski.

    If you dislike horror movies, as I do, you might still consider seeing A Quiet Place. People are calling it a horror flick, but there’s very little horror in it. There’s no gore, there’s less blood than in a typical episode of CSI, and there are only a few jump-scares. If you can handle The X-Files, you can handle this movie.

    Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are parents to three children in rural New York. Strange, blind creatures have pretty much destroyed normal civilization around the world. While they can’t see, they have superhuman hearing, so making noise of any kind is almost certain death. Those who survive have learned to live in silence.

    A Quiet Place is so shockingly quiet that audiences monitor their own snack-eating sounds, and if someone comes into the theater late, every footstep on the hard floor is an affront to everyone else’s experience. The interesting side-effect of all this silence is that the visuals become super-effective, especially in one scene where Millicent Simmonds, playing the couple’s deaf daughter, has a close encounter with one of the monsters.

    It is suspenseful as heck, and there’s one scene where I closed my eyes. Still, it’s worth the 90 minutes of tension and discomfort because it is so different from pretty much everything I’ve seen. Add a few themes of empowerment for women and you get a satisfying (if not enjoyable) movie-going experience.

    82 out of 100.
    8/10

  19. I’m kinda interested in seeing that, so I didn’t really read your review. I did see that you would recommend it even one doesn’t like horror movies, so that’s a positive sign. I also saw that the movie is really suspenseful, which is not a good sign. (My ability to cope with suspense has dropped dramatically over time.)

  20. Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
    Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black, Sudie Bond, Kathy Bates, Mark Patton. Written by Ed Graczyk. Directed by Robert Altman.

    It’s September 30, 1975 in a small Texas town not far from where James Dean once filmed Giant, and it’s the twenty-year anniversary of Dean’s death in a car accident. The all-female James Dean fan club in this town reunites in the old Woolworth’s store where they used to meet. Some have been in regular contact, while others haven’t been seen in a very long time.

    It’s a great setup, and the title all by itself demands at least one viewing, no matter what the film is about.

    At first, it’s pretty impressive. The acting and actors are interesting, with Cher reminding you first that she’s far too talented for her smallish filmography, then Sandy Dennis and Kathy Bates sending you to IMDb to see what else they were in. Seriously, Altman does a really good job of framing the characters and actors in a way that really gets you involved.


    The narrative switches between 1975 and 1955, with Altman using a mirror and some camera tricks to indicate the time segues. At first it’s a neat effect, but it becomes tiresome about midway through. The entire film does the same thing. What starts as a bunch of interesting characters and impressive acting becomes a your-turn-my-turn exchange of revelations and overwrought delivery that might have played well on stage but is exhausting on screen. After the first ninety minutes, I just wanted it to end already.

    I’ll say one thing that surprised me was Mark Patton as Joe, a homosexual friend of the James Dean Disciples in 1955. Patton is the star of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, and the reason I was spurred to finally seeing this film. Patton is gay, and that second Freddy Krueger film has all kinds of homosexual subtext, and the actor’s career is a really interesting story. Turns out the guy’s a pretty good actor. At least in the first half of this movie.

    While I admire Cher enough to see just about anything she’s in, this is not the best example of her work. Or anyone else’s.

    48/100
    4/10

  21. 48? Wow, I’m surprised by that. I haven’t seen the film in about twenty years, but I remember liking it a lot more.

  22. Nim’s Island (2008)
    Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler. Written by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, based on the novel by Wendy Orr. Directed by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett.


    Nim is an eleven-year-old girl living alone with her father on a tiny, remote island in the Pacific. Her father Jack is a marine biologist searching for a new species of protozoa. Jack’s boat is hit by a huge storm while on a short expedition, and Nim is left to wonder what’s happened to him. With help from her pets on the island (a bearded dragon and a sea lion), she fends off an Australian tour company looking to turn her island into a resort, but when things get rough, she reaches out to her favorite author, an adventurer named Alex Rover, for help.

    What nobody knows except Rover’s publisher and assistant is that Alex Rover is actually Alexandra Rover (played wonderfully by Jodie Foster), a germophobic agoraphobe who hasn’t ventured outside her house in San Francisco for years. But heck: Nim is a little girl all alone on an island, so Alexandra screws her courage to the sticking place and ventures out to save her.


    This kids movie is too cutesy by about half, but this can be forgiven because of the filmmakers’ creativity and conscience in telling an interesting story about a tweener who’s neither a helpless baby nor a grownup in a kid’s body. Yes, she’s smart because she has been raised by a smart father, and yes she’s tough because she’s lived her whole life doing things for herself. But she’s also scared, not because she can’t take care of herself, but because where the heck is her father?

    Parents are unlikely to love the story as much as their kids love it, but they may (as I) find the storytelling creative and thoughtful. Gerard Butler as Jack plays two roles in a way that’s far from gimmicky. Rather, this casting decision holds the entire film together for each of its three principal characters. Other technical decisions, such as the way Nim immerses herself in the stories she reads, and a considered but fairly indistinguishable reliance on CGI make this almost a great movie.


    Where it falls short for me are where Levin and Flackett go to moviemaking shorthand in places where it’s senseless and unnecessary. I’m no vulcanologist, but I suspect the volcano on Nim’s island behaves in a decidely unrealistic way, which perhaps I wouldn’t mind so much if it weren’t a movie about a girl whose parents are scientists. And there is a scene at what is supposed to be the airport on Rarotonga that is straight out of movies from a less enlightened time, including chickens in bamboo cages and a gate attendant with a heavy Asian accent.

    I wouldn’t mind the Asian woman with the Asian accent, because if the gate attendants in Honolulu can be accented Asian women, why not the attendants in Rarotonga? By itself it doesn’t bother me, but combined with the other silly (and frankly uneducational and unhelpful) stereotype-preserving decisions in this section of the film, it feels like nothing more than a device to give the illusion of being somewhere foreign. Writers like Levin and Flackett are smart enough to have thought of a better way, and it’s the kind of thing they generally avoid in their films. In the directors’ commentary on the DVD, they even say right up front at the beginning of the scene, “This is not what the airport in Rarotonga looks like! It’s actually lovely.” A huge disappointment.


    One neat trick the directors employ is to let us see what the world looks and feels like to Alexandra, then to show us what it’s like to everyone else. Why not frame the silly exaggerated primitiveness of the Rarotonga airport as Alexandra’s perception, then show us what it really looks like?

    If it seems I’m going on at excessive length about one semi-insignificant portion of the film, it’s because it’s the most representative of a few craw-sticking flaws. I expect this from lesser artists. Levin and Flackett have already demonstrated that they are not lesser artists.

    Still, this is a film I would gladly watch with my kids, if they weren’t as imaginary as Alex Rover. Butler, Foster, and Breslin are perfectly cast, and there’s a commentary track on the DVD by Foster and Breslin that’s actually aimed at a young audience, with the actors talking about how much fun it was to make a movie, and some of the amazing things they learned about animals and islands during the film’s production. Another great idea.

    71/100 but could have been a lot higher.
    7/10

  23. The Glass Castle (2017)
    Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts. Written by Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham, and Marti Noxon (based on the memoir by Jeannete Walls). Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.

    I admired Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12, largely for its character-driven approach, realistic portrayal of life in a juvenile care home, and excellent acting by Brie Larson. Something about the director’s style appeals to me, and I’ve since become an even greater admirer of Larson, who won a Best Actress Oscar for her excellent performance in Room.

    The Glass Castle reunites Larson with Cretton, and it’s a good pairing. Larson is very good as Jeannette Walls, a twenty-something society columnist for a New York magazine. Told in flashback, her story of growing up in extreme poverty with an artist mother and alcoholic father is heartbreaking and somewhat inspiring. Jeannette and her three siblings understand that they don’t have money, but while they’re still very young, they seem to appreciate that they’re blessed in other ways.

    More than anything, Rex Walls (Woody Harrelson) cherishes his freedom. While he’s more than capable of earning an honest living, he and his wife Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) love being able to get into a car and go anywhere, whenever they want, and set up temporary homes wherever they can find some space. Sure, these moves are often spurred by mounting debts the family has no hope of repaying, but they do a good job of communicating to their kids that as long as they have the stars at night, each other all the time, and freedom from obligations, they’re pretty wealthy.

    It might have worked out, if Rex weren’t an alcoholic and a dreamer of impossible dreams. He’s a good man in the complicated way that most good men are, and he has demons his children only become aware of as they grow old enough to understand them. For many reasons, they’re willing to write him a pass, sort of, but there comes a point at which negligence becomes malice, and malice against children is abuse.

    This is really the story of how Jeannette—clearly her father’s favorite, at least as this story is told—grows through stages of relating to and understanding her father. I find it a satisfying arc, although whether you will find it satisfying probably depends on how strongly you condemn Rex. Many critics seem to believe that Rex’s offenses are too great for any kind of redemption, let alone the weakly granted redemption he’s given. Since the film is told through Jeannette’s eyes, I say there’s a place where maybe we don’t feel at all satisfied for Jeannette and her siblings but can accept that they’re satisfied themselves. This is their father, and what good will it do any of them not to forgive?

    This is not a great film, but the acting is solid. In addition to the leads, the two actresses who play eight-year-old Jeannette and eleven-year-old Jeannette (Chandler Head and Ella Anderson, respectively) are pretty wonderful. Larson and Harrelson do a very nice job of developing the daughter-father relationship so that the end feels like the right end, whether it’s what we wish for or not.

    This may be something of a spoiler, but viewers sensitive to themes of sexual abuse should probably stay away.

    73/100
    7/10

  24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
    Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Clug Gulager, Hope Lange, Robert Englund. Written by David Caskin. Directed by Jack Sholder.

    On a budget of three million dollars, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge made just shy of thirty million dollars at the box office. While that’s far from blockbuster status, its investors probably didn’t complain about that kind of return, which explains the nine films in this series. They don’t have to be gigantic: they just have to be big enough.

    And this sequel to Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is good enough. Good enough to sell an adequate number of tickets, good enough not to feel gypped, good enough to warrant a third film, and good enough for me to add the third film to my queue.

    Except for Robert Englund in the title role, none of the actors returns for this one, which is set in the same house in the same town. Five years after Nancy Thompson defeated Freddy Krueger, Jesse Walsh and his family move into the Thompsons’ old house. Jesse has nightmares of being stalked, of course, and he discovers the diary where Nancy recorded her dreams.

    Freddy possesses Jesse, so now real-world victims don’t have to dream about him in order for Freddy to do his damage. He takes control of Jesse’s wakeful body to kill Jesse’s gym teacher, schoolmates, and others, but he cannot kill Lisa, the girl Jesse has a crush on. Lisa realizes that Jesse’s fear gives Freddy his power.

    About midway through the movie’s eighty-five minutes, I was struck with a weird sense that this movie was more thoughtful than it needed to be. I expected something slightly less than its predecessor, since that was written by Wes Craven, a person whose name I know, while this was written by David Caskin, whom I had never heard of.

    Without Wikipedia’s breakdown, I don’t know that I would have identified the film’s homoerotic themes, but I definitely picked up the intimacy between Jesse and the other male characters in the film, especially his friend Ron and Freddy himself. I’m not saying A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is The Great Gatsby for its deep explorations of the American identity or whatever, but even a little bit of thoughtfulness about subtext is more than I expected. It gives this movie a bit more to recommend it than just its slasher sensibilities.

    I said a bit.

    50/100
    5/10

  25. Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984)
    Lucinda Dickey, Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quiñones, Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers, Ice-T. Directed by Sam Firstenberg.

    “The evil developers are going to tear down our community youth center. We need a whole lot of money to buy the property, or this is going to become a mall!” “I know! Let’s put on a show to raise the funds!”

    I try not to judge a movie for recycling this plot, not because it’s not tired and cliche, but because I have to admit I’ve enjoyed it from time to time. Of course, I was fourteen, and the movies starred young Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, but whatever. Maybe Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo is someone else’s Babes on Broadway.

    At first this film is exactly what I expected, a lot of bad dialogue constructed to tie the dance numbers together. Only it’s worse, because the dance numbers are boring. But then, beginning about midway through, they get creative and interesting, including a fun number with dancing on the walls and ceiling, and a hospital number with brooms or mops (my memory’s hazy and it was very late at night when I watched this).

    I found myself kind of liking most of the central characters, too, which I cannot explain, because they pretty much come right out of the stock characters assembly kit. Shout-out to Sabrina Garcia, who plays a Spanish-speaking love interest and is maybe the prettiest actress I’ve seen in any hip hop film, and I’ve seen Rae Dawn Chong in Beat Street. The music is unmemorable but after the first couple of numbers, it’s not bad.

    This is supposed to be the good movie in the Breakin’ trilogy. Now I have to see how much worse the others could be.

    Seriously, not a bad watch.

    51/100
    5/10

  26. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
    Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Lementieff, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin.  Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.  Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.

    However you may feel about comic book adaptations, there is something admirable about the concept and execution of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe leading to Avengers: Inifinity War, and ostensibly concluding with its sequel in 2019. This is the nineteenth film in the series, with at least three to go in this cycle. Unlike other interminable series, which (with rare exception) at most plan ahead for two sequels, simply adding to the body with movie after movie according to the market’s demand, the MCU films have been driving toward this film seemingly since the beginning.

    Whether the next Avengers movie is meant to be a conclusion or not, this one certainly feels like a pulling together of all the threads toward a final something. Although of course I assume that’s just part of the pattern for most long-running comic books.

    Followers of the series are already aware of the Infinity Stones, MacGuffin devices containing unearthly power. Individually, they give their bearers amazing power. Combined, their power is insurmountable.

    Thanos is determined to bring them together so that he might alleviate the universe of its greatest ills. Overpopulation has led to all troubles everywhere, so Thanos hopes arbitrarily to wipe out half the living beings, a terrible solution, but a last resort where one is needed. And since it is the only cure for what ails the universe, Thanos of course must let nothing or nobody get in his way.

    The Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the citizens of Wakanda, Doctor Strange, and Spiderman try to get in his way.

    It’s a huge, far-flung plot involving a ridiculous number of important, charismatic characters with really only one villain, and it mostly works. It’s difficult to point to any one character and say, “That one didn’t get his or her fair share of screen time,” although at least three heroes are noticeably absent. I’m partial to Scarlet Witch and would have liked more of her, but everyone pretty much gets a nice, important part to play.

    I really like the score, too.

    I’ve heard criticism of the film’s pacing, but jumps in action from one set of heroes working on one part of the Infinity War to other sets of heroes working on their parts provide interesting scenery changes that pace the seemingly nonstop action rather well.  It’s a fun, engaging, cool (wait ‘til you see Thor’s weapon) movie, and much better than the first two Avengers films.

    78/100
    7/10

  27. Evil Genius (2018)
    Dir. Barbara Schroeder
    69/100

    **
    True crime documentary broken into four 50 minute sections. What’s distinctive about this film is the nature of the crime: a pizza delivery guy robs a bank wearing a collar bomb. He claims that someone put it on him at a pizza delivery, and if he doesn’t deliver the money in a certain amount of time the bomb will go off. If that appeals to you, I’d probably recommend the film.

    The film kept my attention, but for some reason I’m not fully satisfied, and I’m not sure why. I’m not as interested in these type of movie, so that must be part of it.

    ***
    One spoiler comment. The various interviewees frequently mention how smart individuals are, and the word “genius” is obviously used in the title. But those claims seem overstated. I’m not denying that the individuals are intelligence to some degree, but if they were really intelligent–especially on a genius level–would they really have tried to implement such a scheme? It’s so elaborate, and even if the plan worked, they would only have received several thousand dollars, far less than the $250,000 they seemed to want. A genius would not only get that money, but would choose a far less convoluted way of doing it. In some ways, it seems kinda a comical.

  28. Tully (2018)
    Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass. Written by Diablo Cody. Directed by Jason Reitman.

    Sometimes a movie must be reviewed for how it addresses big, important issues, and the more the reviewer knows about these issues, the more credible the review.

    I’m part of the intended audience who is completely unqualified to hold the film up against these big issues, so I cannot comment on how intelligently, fairly, accurately, or radically it faces them. But I am part of the intended audience, so I am qualified to respond to it as art, bringing what I bring — namely my maleness and my no-marriage-no-kids status.

    So this is how a middle-aged, never-married-never-had-kids man, knowing full well he will never relate to a huge chunk of the art’s purpose, receives Tully, a movie about a middle-aged woman dealing with post-childbirth life as a mother and wife.

    When a writer, director, and actor attempt to create something that doesn’t look or feel like everything else, it can be as wonderfully original and satisfying as Juno or as uneven as Young Adult. Tully is somewhere between them, much closer to Young Adult in edginess and mood.

    Charlize Theron is excellent as Marlo, a middle-aged mother of three dealing with the pressures of perceived good parenting, at times (and in retrospect) stunning. It’s too early in the year to say this, but she should be considered for a Best Actress Oscar at year’s end. She makes it easy for the other actors, although Mackenzie Davis as her “night nanny” Tully is really good too.

    Tully’s job is to take care of Marlo’s newborn at night, waking Marlo for feedings but otherwise leaving her to sleep while Tully takes care of changing the baby, cleaning up after the baby, and rocking the baby to sleep. The extra rest does wonders for Marlo, who suddenly has time and energy to do many of the good-mommy things she feels she’s neglected lately, like preparing family meals that don’t come out of the freezer.

    More than the extra rest, Tully provides companionship and understanding, an incredible source of sympathy Marlo has been lacking. Marlo finds a listening ear and wise counsel about taking care of herself, her family, and her husband, whose love is not questionable but whose contribution to running the household is. In one unforgettable scene, Tully asks Marlo to open up about her sex life, and Marlo is inspired to get things in the bedroom heated up again.

    Marlo needs rest and time, but she also needs help, and she needs to be healthy in mind and body. Tully makes it all possible, and Marlo’s reemergence is lovely to see.

    But the movie is about something else, something best left to the viewer to realize. I offer a trigger warning for anyone sensitive to issues of postpartum depression. If there’s any question, read a spoiler review, of which several can easily be found. If not, see it for yourself and watch a movie start off about one thing but then become something else.

    8/10
    80/100

  29. The Room (2003)
    Tommy Wiseau, Juliette Danielle, Greg Sestero, Phiip Haldiman, Carolyn Minnott, Robyn Paris. Written by Tommy Wiseau. Directed by Tommy Wiseau.

    Apparently, sometime in the past fifteen years without anyone’s consulting me, 2003’s The Room supplanted Plan 9 from Outer Space as the worst movie ever made. I didn’t even know this film existed until I saw the hype leading up to the release of James Franco’s 2017 The Disaster Artist.

    Yet descriptions could not be believed. I had to see it myself. And midway through my first viewing, all I could think was that while I was utterly fascinated at the amazingly bad movie playing before me, it was so bad that I couldn’t sit through all of it. I had to spread it out over three evenings.

    When you talk about how awful Plan 9 from Outer Space is, you can point to twenty things, and your listener will get it. Bella Lugosi died midway through shooting, so they replaced him with someone who didn’t look anything like Lugosi. Director Ed Wood solved this by having Lugosi walk around with his cape covering his face for the rest of the film. In one scene set in a graveyard, the gravestones wobble and topple over, revealing them to be the cardboard stand-up props they are. One woman screams and two different-voices come out of her mouth at the same time.

    The Room is so bizarrely, bafflingly bad that describing it doesn’t communicate how utterly bad it is. Take one awful, popular favorite scene. Main character Johnny (played by writer-director-producer Tommy Wiseau) walks into a flower shop, wearing sunglasses. He says, “Hi.” The woman behind the counter says, “Can I help you?” Tommy says, “Yeah, can I have a dozen red roses please?” The woman says, “Oh, hi Johnny. I didn’t know it was you. Here you go.” She hands him the roses, already wrapped in cellophane. “That’s me,” he replies in a friendly, sing-song voice, and “How much is it?” “It’ll be eighteen dollars,” she replies before he’s finished asking the question. “Here you go. Keep the change,” says Johnny before the woman finishes telling him the price, followed by “Hi doggie,” as he pats the head of a bulldog sitting on the counter. “You’re my favorite customer,” says the woman. Johnny says, “Thanks a lot,” and leaves.

    See? It doesn’t sound very interesting, but neither does it sound really bad, unless you’re seeing it for maybe the second or third time, in context. You don’t realize that “Oh, hi ______” is a recurring line popping up in completely arbitrary places, or that it’s absurd for the woman at the flower shop not to recognize her favorite customer when nobody on the planet could possibly be mistaken for Johnny, except Tommy Wiseau.

    And yeah. The whole movie is pretty much just like that.

    For the uninitiated, a quick breakdown. Tommy Wiseau wrote, starred in, directed, and produced this film by himself, paying the six-million-dollar production costs. Wiseau doesn’t tell anyone (anyone!) where he’s from, how old he is, or where he acquired his wealth, and he has a bizarre accent that sounds vaguely eastern European, but you probably wouldn’t put money on it. To hype the film, Wiseau rented a billboard for $5000 per month, and kept it there for five years despite the film playing in only one theater for only two weeks, bringing in $1800 at the box office.

    A film critic saw it during its original run and became an instant fan. Word of mouth turned it into a midnight movie hit at one theater in Los Angeles, where it played once a month at midnight for eight years, often selling out. Among the movie’s fans are Paul Rudd, David Cross, Will Arnett, Patton Oswalt, Seth Rogen, Kristen Bell, James Franco, and Dave Franco. The Francos star together in The Disaster Artist, a film about The Room directed by James.

    I’ve seen the film three times. Each time it was more charming and more watchable than the previous, but seriously, I can’t just sit and watch it all the way through. I can have it on while I get some work done, while I make dinner, or while I’m goofing off online. It continues to be a horrible, terrible movie with only two things to recommend it on its own merit (and without irony).

    The female lead, Juliette Danielle, puts herself fully into a role that she must have known was ridiculous. There is no self-awareness and no wink at the camera, something I have to say I admire. She’s also pretty not in a Hollywood way, but in a prettiest-barista-at-the-cafe way, the kind of pretty movies should make more of an effort to cast because it’s so much closer to real life. Supporting actress Robyn Paris comes across as the only real actor in the film, someone I would seriously think of casting if I ever made a movie.

    Holy cow. I have to say this is the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but I kind of like it, and for that reason I can’t give it the lowest score.  I’d rather watch ten hours of The Room than a single minute of Event Horizon.

    2/10
    25/100

    1. I’ve seen the film three times.

      Wait, to be clear, you saw the movie in its entirety three separate times, or is the above in reference to three attempts it took to complete one viewing of the film?

      I have no desire to see this, but I found this review, like others about really bad films, strangely compelling.

  30. I watched it attentively once across three nights. Then I watched it semi-atttentively twice more in one sitting each a week or so later.

    1. What possessed you to watch it two more times? Would you say it’s a good-bad movie? (Actually, I don’t get that impression from your review.)

      1. It’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen.

        I watched it twice more because I wasn’t watching it to be entertained. I was watching it to understand its appeal to those who say it’s their favorite movie. People celebrate certain things in the film that I never noticed the first time through, like the strange, framed photo of a spoon on a living room end table. Or a weird lump that shows up on a character’s neck, something the actor says she’s tried to duplicate but can neither explain nor do again.

        I also watched it twice more because I saw The Disaster Artist after my first viewing, so the James Franco film gave me a bit of insight into some of the scenes, which I wanted to see again now that I had historical context.

        People say it’s the best worst movie ever. I might go that far, but it’s sooooo bad that I don’t know if I can give it any credit for being good-bad.

        1. People celebrate certain things in the film that I never noticed the first time through, like the strange, framed photo of a spoon on a living room end table. Or a weird lump that shows up on a character’s neck, something the actor says she’s tried to duplicate but can neither explain nor do again.

          That is intriguing, and I never heard that before. So did you gain insight into why those things were celebrated?

  31. Lady Bird (2017)
    Dir. Greta Gerwig
    77/100

    I thought this was a solid film, and I laughed quite a bit and got emotional in some of the scenes. What stood out for me were the characters and performances, Ronan first and Laurie Metcalf second. (I had no idea Metcalf was the mother.) Ronan brought a vitality, subtle quirkiness and winning quality to the character that I liked. I also liked the way Gerwig handled the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother. Gerwig did a good job directing this, and I’m interested in seeing her future releases.

  32. You didn’t know Laurie Metcalf’s character was Lady Bird’s mom?

    Saoirse Ronan is a really good actress. You might consider changing your mind about seeing Brooklyn if she impressed you.

    1. I didn’t know the Laurie Metcalf was the actor who played the mother. She just looked totally different from who she looked in Roseanne.

      1. Oh, okay. Yeah. She’s played a recurring character on The Big Bang Theory so it wasn’t that much of a stretch from that character.

  33. Words and Pictures (2013)
    Dir. Fred Schepisi
    Starring: Clive Owen, Juliet Binoche, etc.
    61/100

    **
    The two leads and the premise–a romance, drama involving an English teacher (Owen) and an art teacher (Binoche) getting to a school wide battle involving arts versus words–made me interested in seeing this. However, I had never really heard of this film, and it seemed like a straight to video/streaming movie. Such movies can be hit-or-miss, often the latter. Specifically, I find films like this have an interesting script that attracts A-list actors, but some significant flaws in the script or maybe direction really hurt the film.

    In a way, I think that’s what happened here. I’ll say more in the next section.

    ***
    Here’s the major problem I had with the film. The alcoholism and other problematic aspects of Owen’s character (Jack Marcus) seemed unnecessary. I understand the plot point involving his Jack’s job being in jeopardy as a way to explain the reason Jack’s motivated to wage this war between words and pictures, but they expand on Jack’s foibles, allowing to steer the plot in specific directions that felt unnecessary. For example, the filmmakers could have thought of other reasons Jacks job was in jeopardy. Maybe he lost the spark of teaching, and the arrival of the new art teacher reignited that spark–first starting with something personal between them, leading to this competitive expression in the school setting, and then ultimately leading to romance. Maybe that’s predictable, but if executed well, I think it would have been satisfying. (The story/plot wasn’t all that original or unpredictable.)

    Having said that, I’m not sure Owen would have made this different story-line. He seemed well-suited for this broken down, flawed individual, but I don’t know if he had the best chemistry with Binoche.

    By the way, some of the ideas expressed about art and literature appealed to me, and kept my interest in the film.

  34. Deadpool 2 (2018)
    Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller. Written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Ryan Reynolds. Directed by David Leitch.

    The problem with an unexpectedly good movie like Deadpool is that it creates fair but lofty kinds of expectation for its sequel. The first Ice Age and Shrek films did the same thing, and their follow-ups suffered for it.

    It isn’t that Deadpool 2 is bad. It’s just positioned to deliver more of the same: more cleverness, more irreverence, more vulgarity, more compassion for its main character, and more unexpectedness. Either that or it might have found new ways to be equally all these things. It’s too much to ask, and this sequel isn’t up to it.

    It’s still clever, irreverent, vulgar, compassionate toward its main character. It’s just not unexpected, and it’s not enough.

    Even the structure of the film is pretty much the same. This is no origin story, but the movie opens in medias res, then flashes back, works its way forward and continues to the end. I guess if a thing works, you just do it again.

    Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead return, and they are joined by an interesting menagerie of mutants (including a few who’ve appeared in X-Men films) as Wade Wilson attempts to help a mutant boy manage his anger before he turns evil. It’s best not to overthink it and just go along for the ride, which is fun, funny, entertaining, and even charming. Just not as much as the first movie.

    7/10
    68/100

  35. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
    Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany.

    It’s another standalone Star Wars story, and after Rogue One I have to say I was amped to see it. Alden Ehrenreich is a terrific actor, and his “Would that it were so simple” dialogue with Ralph Fiennes in Hail, Caesar! is one of the most laugh-aloud funny scenes I’ve seen in years, so nobody needed to persuade me to buy him as Solo. I was already bought.

    Solo: A Star Wars Story traces Han Solo’s early life, beginning with an escape from some kind of child labor camp (or something!) and ending somewhere vaguely familiar but nonspecific in our knowledge of the Star Wars universe. As it unfolds, we see the development of Han’s story in the years before we meet him in Episode IV.

    It’s a standalone movie, but of course it’s a standalone movie about a beloved character. The writers, actors, and director have to walk a delicate line between just telling a good story and being true to both canon and spirit, and they walk it well. Although some of my female friends disagree, Ehrenreich has the swagger and cunning of the Han Solo we know. If he’s not as ruggedly handsome or seductive, he shows signs of becoming that guy. We should expect him to be a bit raw and even innocent, two words we’d never use in describing the character as played by Harrison Ford. Young Han Solo has seen things, but not that many things.

    The other major, less doubtful question is whether Donald Glover could pull off Lando Calrissian. I feel very confident in assessing his performance as better than anyone could have hoped. He’s not only perfect, he’s somehow better than that, so charismatic, morally ambiguous, and charming that he almost steals the movie from Ehrenreich.

    Add Woody Harrelson, a new droid named L3-37, a love interest named Qi’ra, and of course Chewbacca, and you have a solid cast for what should be the first movie in a trilogy. Honestly, it’s a stronger set of actors than we thought we had after episodes IV and I, and if the story is not quite as good as some of the best in the series, it can be excused for spending more time on character development than plot.

    This is not to suggest the plot is terrible. It’s decent space western stuff with unanswered questions enough to keep the audience guessing as it awaits word on a sequel. I found enough to chew on that I waited only a week before getting back to the theater to see it again. I’m fully down with this Solo, this Calrissian, and this nested series. I’ve got a good feeling about this.

    8/10
    81/100

  36. Fever Pitch (2005)
    Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon, Ione Skye. Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. Directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly.

    It’s frustrating when a movie has the right pieces, a good concept, well-imagined characters, and a lazy script. Bill Simmons, perhaps America’s most famous Red Sox fan, has famously said he hates Fever Pitch because Ben, the main character played by Jimmy Fallon, does something near the end that no Red Sox fan would ever do.

    Simmons misses the point, because knowing that no Red Sox fan would ever do what Ben does is what supposedly makes his actions reflective of the change of heart he experiences, which of course results in our happily ever after. If this were a sports movie, perhaps Simmons would have a good point, but even he says that this is no baseball movie. This, he insists, is a chick flick.

    I’ll see Simmons’s insistance and raise him one more: not only is this not a baseball movie, but neither is it a romantic comedy. Oh, it wants to be a romantic comedy, but Ben’s transformation is so lazily handled that it’s more magic than romance. It tries to be a romantic comedy, but it avoids the messiness of two people working through something real and complicated, leaving us instead with an eye-opening moment for Lindsey, the main character played by Drew Barrymore.

    Perhaps the writers think they’re doing something clever by focusing the pit-of-despair moments on Ben, but Ben is mostly the culprit here. Yes, we should see him wallow, but what’s Lindsey going through while it’s happening? We don’t see that she’s miserable, lonely, stuck with some a-hole of a new guy, or in any way struggling with the tension central to the movie’s plot. How does a relationship work out when one person is married to her work and the other is married to a baseball team?

    “You have always loved the Red Sox,” says one character to Ben, “but have the Red Sox ever loved you back?” It’s wisdom, but it’s not the kind of wisdom that should open up the clouds so sunbeams can fall only on Ben, because we’ve already seen what Ben gets out of his fandom: some really good stuff, stuff that Lindsey knows is important.

    The film avoids dealing with this conflict, and while I can totally be here for two people saying, “We have a huge problem but we love each other enough to deal with it,” why not deal with it in the movie? In even a bad romantic comedy, some kind of relationship figuring-out should happen, but we get none of it. It’s a real shame, because the film does a really, really good job of setting up and executing Lindsey’s heartbreak. Yet we get nothing of her recovery: it’s all just magic, and this is why Fever Pitch is neither baseball film nor romantic comedy, but romance flick of the annoying kind.

    Ben is a high-school teacher. Lindsey is an executive of some undefined, generic sort. They are adorable together. Early scenes where they get to know each other make you think you’re seeing a very good film. In the first two-thirds of the film, I love just about every scene they’re in together and dislike almost every scene where they’re with their respective groups of friends. But this is winter Ben. Summer Ben is a different creature, which he is honest about just before summer Ben awakens from hibernation.

    So far so good! This could work! At first, it does. Then the level of Ben’s fanaticism really does become a problem, as it should, and the relationship believably comes crashing down until it’s rock bottom for Ben and who knows what for Lindsey?

    If a movie has a bad setup but a great finish, you can split the difference and give it an average rating. If it goes the other way, with a great setup and terrible finish, you have to slide it toward the neg. There’s a reason Reggie Jackson was Mr. October, and there’s a reason George Steinbrenner called Dave Winfield Mr. May. Fever Pitch is no Reggie Jackson.

    4/10
    46/100

  37. The Pitcher and the Pin-Up (2003)
    Drew Johnson, Corinna Harney. Written by Drew Johnson and David A. Burr. Directed by Drew Johnson.

    Twelve minutes into The Pitcher and the Pin-Up (originally released as The Road Home), I said on social media, “This may be the worst movie I’ve ever seen.”

    My feelings didn’t change through the first half, but there’s some college baseball action in the middle that doesn’t suck. The acting doesn’t suck, the editing doesn’t suck, the lighting and sound don’t suck, and the music doesn’t suck. The only thing that sucks is the writing, and the writing reeeeeeeally sucks.

    The story isn’t just loaded with cliché; it’s an uninterrupted string of clichés from beginning to end. I recently declared The Room the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but at least The Room is packed with stuff you’ve never seen before. I’d much rather watch The Room again. You might have to pay me to spend another evening with The Pitcher and the Pin-Up.

    Danny and Melissa are childhood friends who clearly love each other but act like they don’t. They drift apart when one goes to college on a baseball scholarship while the other poses nude for a magazine, hoping it will launch a modeling career, although what she really wants to be is a poet. Someone plays in the College World Series. Someone marries a jerk. They get closer; they grow apart. Life is rather cruel to both, but in their brokenness they discover they have always loved each other.

    Worst baseball movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen The Bad News Bears Go to Japan.

    2/10
    27/100

  38. The Usual Suspects (1995)
    Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Pollak, Pete Postlethwaite, Kevin Spacey, Suzy Amis, Benicio del Toro, Giancarlo Esposito. Written by Christopher McQuarrie. Directed by Bryan Singer.

    A friend gave me a terrific day-by-day movie quotes calendar, one of the rare such calendars that you don’t fall behind on, because you really can’t wait to see what the next cool quote is going to be, unlike those word-of-the-day calendars which you always lose interest in because you can’t remember yesterday’s word so what’s the point in looking forward to tomorrow’s, or tearing off the last six weeks’ worth of days just to find out what today’s is?

    On Monday, May 14, I shared on Facebook a photo of the May 12/13 quote: “I volunteer as tribute” from The Hunger Games (a movie I like based on a novel I love). I explained that the Monday quote was from a movie I hadn’t seen, The Usual Suspects.

    Yeesh. You’d think I’d said I hadn’t seen The Sound of Music (which I haven’t). My friends seemed genuinely concerned. “You must see it!” many commented. Since I work on a university campus and have borrowing privileges, I borrowed the DVD that very afternoon and told everyone to cool it. I was finally going to see it.

    The next day, I received two text messages from friends asking if I had righted the wrong. I hadn’t, but I promised I’d do it that evening.

    And I promise, it doesn’t please me to say this, but the movie is just okay. I know. I’m sorry!

    The film is something of a noir, and its dialogue is written in the noir style, which I really enjoyed. Five con artists are involved in a heist that turns out not to be what they thought they were signing up for, and lots of people die. I’m not spoiling anything because that’s sort of the way the film opens.

    The characters are well-imagined and the dialogue is really great. Kevin Spacey provides some lovely voice-over narration reminding you that the joys of a good noir don’t always emerge from the plot. Very often, it’s the look and feel, the sound of the language, the feel of the shadows, the often unspoken emotions and unmentioned sexual tension that makes you stick with The Big Sleep even though you’ve watched it once a year since you were fourteen and still don’t know what the story’s about.

    If these were the only things to consider, I’d rate this movie much higher; in fact, the middling score I’m giving it is really the average of these strengths against its major weakness, which is a plot hole I will spoil in the very last paragraph of this review, after my rating. It’s a plot hole I can’t just brush away, because it reduces all these other good ingredients to little more than a pretty good actor’s workshop in movie character tropes and pretty good language. In other movies this can be more than enough to endear me. In this one, all it does is make me certain that my friends are going to disown me.

    It’s an okay film. Things about it are great. One thing about it is awful.

    5/10
    55/100

    SPOILER COMMENT:
    Even though I am an English major and should always be on guard, I sometimes forget about the device known as the unreliable narrator. This is not one of these times. Alerted by my friends that there was a twist, I predicted the twist very early in the film and was all but certain midway through. Kevin Spacey’s character is about as unreliable a narrator as they come, something I noticed right away, so the moment of the reveal didn’t leave me merely unsurprised, but annoyed. The truth of his identity means practically nothing in the movie actually happens. It may as well be the old waking-from-a-bad-dream reveal. If we can accept the reality that it was all just a really good story, this might make it all okay, except that despite its near-excellent language, the good story itself doesn’t work, since we are privy to conversations and actions the storyteller would never have been aware of because he wasn’t there. Imagine your kid telling you an elaborate lie about how the cookies disappeared, in which he says, “Before I came home, Sally told Betty that they could make it look like I ate the cookies.” The lie is obvious because the storyteller can’t possibly know what Sally or Betty said. Filmed a different way, where we only see everything through Verbal’s eyes, his made-up story could at least be a fun gotcha! moment. As it is, it’s just a movie where something happens but we don’t know what.

    1. Alerted by my friends that there was a twist, I predicted the twist very early in the film and was all but certain midway through.

      Most people don’t think telling someone that a film has a twist is a spoiler, but this is precisely why it can be, and why I used not want to know anything about a film.

      In any event, your explanation certainly explains why you didn’t enjoy the film.

      If we can accept the reality that it was all just a really good story, this might make it all okay, except that despite its near-excellent language, the good story itself doesn’t work, since we are privy to conversations and actions the storyteller would never have been aware of because he wasn’t there.

      But this problem is explained in the reveal–that Verbal is making this up. As long as the viewer loses himself in the film, this is the kind of think that they can either miss.

      1. But if Verbal were telling you this story about how things went down, you’d immediately know he was lying because he was sharing dialogue that he wasn’t around to hear. So none of this story makes sense.

        I’ve been asked a few times since I posted this on Letterboxd yesterday if not expecting a twist would have made me like the movie more, and I said no. It would make me even more furious because I’d have been manipulated for no good reason. I suspect the manipulation is the reason for the movie, and that offends me.

        1. So none of this story makes sense.

          In real life, probably. But this is a movie. When we encounter unrealistic situations or even inconsistencies, unless it’s egregious (breaking out suspension of disbelief), we push it to the side. To be honest, my memory on this point is hazy. I vaguely recall becoming aware of the inconsistency at some point, but either getting caught up in the movie or just pushing it to the side. I do remember enough to know that this didn’t bother me.

  39. Ocean’s 8 (2018)
    Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter. Written by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch. Directed by Gary Ross.

    Debbie Ocean has had five years (in prison) to plan a heist involving the Met Gala, a $150 million diamond necklace, seven other women of questionable ethics but unquestioned skill, and maybe the guy responsible for her being locked up all those years ago.

    It’s a heist flick and it’s meant to connect to the Clooney-Pitt Ocean’s films, and while it’s not as good as Ocean’s 11, it’s at least as interesting as Ocean’s 12. Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett are great together and I would like to see them together in something else. Rihanna holds the screen surprisingly well and is the pleasant surprise of this movie. Anne Hathaway really shines, and almost steal the movie, which leads me to ask once again why people hate her. She’s luminous.

    My biggest problem with the movie is that we don’t really get to know much about the other characters, and since they’re also played by interesting actresses, this is a disappointment. Is it possible to have a good heist movie that also develops its characters well? I wanted to know more about Sarah Paulson’s character especially, but Mindy Kaling’s and Awkwafina’s could also have used some development. I feel mildly ripped off.

    Ocean’s 8 is notable for starring a large cast of women actors, something one just doesn’t see enough of. A similar cast of only men actors would come and go without comment, which says something about the importance of more films of this sort. As of today, the film has grossed $117 million worldwide against a production budget of $70 million, which would seem to indicate that there is a market for this kind of thing.

    We should celebrate also that two of Debbie’s eight accomplices are Asian, and there is no affirmative action in effect here: Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina have already proven their talent, so no excuses need to be made by anyone. If anything, perhaps a few apologies should be sent their way for taking so dang long.

    The story works if you sit back and just go along with it. Get too invested in expected twists or unexpected turns, and you may feel like you paid $15 for a $5 ride. Recommended for streaming, but maybe not for box officing.

    6/10
    67/100

  40. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)
    Written and directed by Mark Hartley.

    Until I popped this DVD into my player, I don’t think I’d ever heard of Cannon Films, although I consider myself a casual fan of Troma Entertainment, the super-low-budget-film company that seems to be Cannon’s kindred spirit.

    Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is a documentary about the rise and fall of a movie production company owned by two cousins who just loved to make movies. Gifted salesmen, they made a career-long practice of coming up with a movie title, creating a movie poster, showing the poster to possible investors, and collecting the money for production, often before a script was written or actors cast.

    Their figure-it-out-as-we-go approach often meant budgets far lower than expected, story changes in the middle of filming, and bizarre casting decisions. Yet like Troma, Cannon seemed to figure that low budgets meant easier profits, and they could put out a lot of movies in short amounts of time if they didn’t sweat stuff like quality or cohesion. As long as their films had lots of sex, monsters, and explosions, sometimes in the same scene, they knew people would have a good time and come back for the fifth and sixth sequels.

    When one of the cousins saw a breakdancer on a Los Angeles sidewalk, he immediately set into motion the production of a movie about breaking. He hired the dancers who would be his stars, hurriedly wrote a story about them, and raced through filming because he heard that another studio was filming Beat Street. For Cannon, it was about getting out there first, not best. Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo were among Cannon’s first hits, but they were not the last.

    Other well-known hit-or-miss-but-mostly-miss titles the company cranked out are the Happy Hooker and Emmanuelle series, three Death Wish sequels, the American Ninja trilogy, almost every Chuck Norris film including the Missing in Action and Delta Force series, Runaway Train, King Solomon’s Mines, Over the Top, Masters of the Universe, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Barfly, Invasion U.S.A., and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. At the same time, it is a hilarious yet impressive filmography. Is there a movie fan older than thirty who hasn’t seen at least a small handful of these pictures?

    Writer-director Mark Hartley interviews nearly thirty actors, producers, and directors about their memories of working for Cannon, including Bo Derek, Sybil Danning, Richard Chamberlain, Dolph Lundgren, Molly Ringwald, Franco Zeffirelli, Cassandra Peterson (Elvira!), Tobe Hooper, Elliot Gould, Robert Forster, and John Avildsen. Some of them have nothing nice to say about their experiences with Cannon, while others wax a bit more nostalgic. The tone is mostly one of amusement, but many contributors admit that there was something valuable about making these films, and something valuable in the films themselves.

    In one segment, the directors talk about how the execs at Cannon promised that they would be allowed to make the movies they wanted, with very little interference from leadership. They don’t seem always to have kept the promise, but you can see why such noted filmmakers as Avildsen, Hooper, Zeffirelli, and John Cassavetes would be willing to work with smaller budgets for a company with Cannon’s checkered past. Zeffirelli says his Otello, a Cannon movie, is the best film of his career.

    Would you rather act in a crappy movie or no movie at all? Would you rather direct one with a small budget but creative control, or one with much more backing but much more oversight? These are identity-defining questions, and if nothing else, Cannon offered actors and directors the choice.

    This is a funny documentary and making art is a funny thing. Should lack of talent or resources keep you from the joy of creating? I say no, and if there’s some sincerity in Cannon’s love of making movies, maybe there’s something valuable in the art itself.

    I laughed aloud multiple times, and am inspired to check out more of the Cannon team’s work.

    8/10
    81/100

  41. I’m still working on my review, but I really want to share this bit of dialogue from The Post.

    Katharine Graham (owner of the Washington Post): My feelings about that and about you can’t be part of this decision to publish or not. I’m here asking your advice, Bob, not your permission.

    Robert McNamara (former Secretary of Defense and Graham’s friend): Then as one of your most trusted advisors and as someone who knows how much you care about this company, I’m worried, Kay. I’ve worked in Washington for ten years and I’ve seen these people up close. Bobby and Lyndon, they were tough customers, but Nixon is different. He’s got some real bad people around him and if you publish, you’ll get the very worst of them. The Colsons and the Erlichmans, and he’ll crush you.

    Graham: I know. He’s just awful and I —

    McNamara: Nixon’s a son of a bitch. He hates you and he hates Ben; he’s wanted to ruin the paper for years and you will not get a second chance, Kay. The Richard Nixon I know will muster the full power of the presidency, and if there’s a way to destroy your paper, by God he’ll find it.

    1. Yeah; that’s clearly why Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks worked so quickly to get this one out in such a short amount of time.

  42. Book Club (2018)
    Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen, Craig T. Nelson, Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Wallace Shawn, Richard Dreyfuss, Alicia Silverstone, Ed Begley Jr.. Written by Bill Holderman and Erin Simms. Directed by Bill Holderman.

    Four women who’ve been friends since college have now been a book club for more than thirty years. Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen play Diane, Vivian, Carol, and Sharon.

    Diane is a recently widowed mother of two adult daughters. She’s going through some reidentification and is unsure of herself, but she’s not nearly as disoriented as her daughters perceive.

    Vivian is a builder and owner of hotels, apparently a self-made business success who doesn’t let relationships with men get too serious because they interfere with her independence.

    Carol is an empty nester, married to a great guy (Craig T. Nelson) but unhappy with her nonexistent sex life.

    Sharon is a judge, divorced for fifteen years. Her adult son is engaged, her ex-husband is dating a much younger woman, and she spends her evenings with a fluffy cat.

    At one of the book club meetings one of the women passes around copies of 50 Shades of Grey, which draws complaints and derision from the group, but “bestsellers” is the club’s theme this year, and so they give it a go. The novel inspires them to make a few changes to their love lives, each in her own way.

    Some of the sequences are ridiculous, but I suspect we’re meant to take the themes seriously but not the stories, and if you’re capable of doing this, you’ll find a few things to like here. I already have a Mary Steenburgen bias, so I love every scene she’s in, pretty much. Of the four main characters, Candice Bergen’s Sharon is perhaps the most interesting.

    I was frustrated with Diane Keaton’s character Diane, because she’s forced to play a character who’s nonassertive around her adult kids, a mode that doesn’t suit the actress well at all. It isn’t until nearly the end of the film where we see Keaton shine as an actress. I wished her story could have begun right there.

    It’s a harmless movie, but in this era of gigantic comic book superhero films, its existence and box office popularity feel important. Here are four celebrated actresses of proven competence, yet how often do we get to see them in starring roles anymore? The movie is worth seeing if only to send a message to Hollywood that there’s a market here. Let’s not waste good talent.

    6/10
    61/100

  43. I saw Incredibles 2 and Ant-man and Wasp, but I’m not motivated to write a review about both. I thought both had good action sequences, but I’m pretty lukewarm about both (and I’m not really interested into discovering the precise reasons). I wonder if I’m just losing interest in superhero movies.

    On a side note, the depiction and use of Ant-man’s/Wasp’s and Iron Man’s abilities in film, the way the filmmakers have translated this to the screen has been really good, making them far more appealing and fun than in the comic books. Iron-Man was cool in the comics, but he’s way cooler in movies.

  44. I have a feeling I know the answer to this, but Reid, did you notice anything familiar about the music in Ant-Man and the Wasp when Michael Pena catches air in the purple flame car?

    1. On FB right after I saw it, I wrote, “Non-spoiler question about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Did anyone notice something about the music in the Michael Pena scene when he catches air in the purple flame car?” I was intentionally vague because I didn’t want to influence the responses.

      I got one response, and it was the one I was looking for. I’m almost certain they score the moment with the same music as that scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, when the parking garage attendants catch air in Cameron’s father’s Ferrari. It’s not the exact recording; I think they add orchestration to keep it thematically the same as the rest of the score. I’m going to go see it again JUST to confirm.

  45. Christopher Robin (2018)
    Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett. Written by Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder. Directed by Marc Forster.

    It’s been thirty years since Christopher Robin last visited the Hundred Acre Wood, and he is sorely missed by its denizens. He’s a man now, with a career as an efficiency manager for a luggage company in post-WWII London. He has a wife and a daughter, and if he ever thinks of his friends Pooh and Piglet, you wouldn’t be able to tell.

    Christopher Robin is unhappy, despite a lovely family and a good job. His job is draining him, and his sense of duty has removed the joy from his family life.

    Since Christopher Robin will not visit the Hundred Acre Wood, which has always been there for him, Winnie-the-Pooh comes looking for Christopher Robin, stumbling into London through the door where they used to meet.

    The rest alternates from magically, nostalgically unexpected to disappointingly cliche. By the time it becomes the latter, however, some viewers will have bought into the whole thing. That’s what happened to me. Although I wasn’t once tempted to say “Awwwwww” the way everyone in the row behind me did several times, I admit to a few teary moments. Christopher Robin runs 104 minutes, and about 80 of them are quite sad.

    Ewan McGregor is perfectly cast as middle-aged Christopher Robin, reminding me at times of his wonderful Alfred Jones character in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, only not as funny. Brad Garrett seems like a no-brainer to voice Eeyore (my favorite), but he’s kind of distractingly recognizable as Brad Garrett most of the time. Young people will probably not have this issue, as Everybody Loves Raymond has been off the air for thirteen years.

    Another excellent decision was to represent the animal characters based on the original drawings by E. H. Shepard in the books, rather than on the Disney cartoons that have replaced them in many of our minds. However the animators managed to put these characters on the screen, the animals seem pretty real to me throughout the film, in both their and Christopher Robin’s realities. Which is rather perfect.

    Although I admit I found most of the third act disappointing, I cannot deny the emotional effect the very existence of this film had on me, an enormous fan of the books by A. A. Milne. I did not have these books read to me as a child, and I came to them rather late, beginning in sixth grade and finishing in seventh. I don’t know what drew me to them then, but I hold tightly to them today for their utter lack of cynicism, for their pureness of spirit, and for their steadfast belief in the virtues of kindness, curiosity, imagination, and the specialness of certain relationships.

    In a time where certain forces seem determined to erode my confidence in foundational institutions of government, religion, and culture, I’m willing to believe, at least for 104 minutes, that “wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”

    Small point deduction for not including some variation of that quote somewhere in the film.

    8/10
    80/100

  46. Incredibles 2 (2018)
    Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson. Written and directed by Brad Bird.

    Although I am a deep admirer of Pixar Studios and its amazing work, I didn’t love The Incredibles in 2004, even acknowledging that the characters were well imagined and the story pretty creative. Breakneck action just doesn’t do much for me most of the time, and even at its most creative, my brain can only handle so much before it starts counting down the minutes until the end credits, which was my experience with the new sequel, Incredibles 2.

    I’m not complaining about too much action in an action movie any more than I’d complain about too much chocolate in a chocolate cake. I’m just noting that however good the action is, it turns me off after a point. Just like a too-chocolately chocolate cake.

    The Incredibles are in hiding because public sentiment is against superheroes, but Winston Deavor, a wealthy benefactor with a thing for supers, has a plan. His new technology can follow a single superhero around as he or she does good deeds, broadcasting the exploits on nationwide television so opinion can be turned in supers’ favor.

    Because Elastigirl’s work usually results in less collateral damage, Winston selects her for this project, leaving Mr. Incredible at home to take care of the kids.

    The household mayhem is my second favorite part of this movie, and Mr. Incredible’s emotional journey is really the heart of this movie. Of course he’d rather be out there fighting evil, but here at home, he discovers a few super abilities he didn’t know he had, the stuff that Elastigirl as superhero and mom has been managing for years.

    My favorite thing in this movie is Violet Parr, the teenaged daughter in the Incredibles family, and her dealing with identity issues related to two mutations: her super powers and her adolescence. If Pixar is interested in a spinoff, I would totally be there for a movie about Violet, set in Violet’s high school.

    It’s a cute, fun movie. But those last twenty minutes are a bear for me to get through! Can we get instead a twenty-minute café scene where Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible have lunch and talk about the college literature class where they first met?

    7/10
    71/100

  47. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)
    Fred Rogers. Directed by Morgan Neville.

    Four personal memories of Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood, my favorite TV show for most of my early childhood.

    1.
    Mr. Rogers shows a short film on his in-studio framed painting, whose name is Picture Picture. Mr. Rogers challenges us to guess what’s being produced in this film. We see machines leading yarn around and around through a maze of mechanical arms, spools, and belts. Something’s taking shape but it’s impossible to tell what it is. Suddenly the process is complete, and we’ve witnessed the automated production of socks.

    2.
    Mr. Rogers has a leaky wooden bucket. He takes us to the house of a neighbor who’s a woodworker. She repairs the bucket. I’m not sure, but I think she does it without glue or any kind of adhesive. Before Mr. Rogers leaves, he thanks his friend and says, “This is water-tight, right?” And the neighor says, “This should be water-tight.” Mr. Rogers takes the bucket back to his place and puts water in the bucket. It’s water-tight, and I’ve learned a new phrase at five years old.

    3.
    I have some kind of boo-boo, something bad enough to make me cry. My family is living on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. My dad is at work; I don’t know where my sister is. My mom puts a Band-Aid on it, or kisses it, or does some kind of mom magic that makes me feel better. Then she gives me a Granny Goose Goos-Bar (it was our family’s preferred brand; I don’t remember having Otter Pops until I was almost out of elementary school, at some kind of school function) and puts me in front of the TV to watch Mr. Rogers.

    4.
    The kids in first and second grade liked Sesame Street. I liked Mr. Rogers. Still. None of the guys liked Mr. Rogers at all. Some of them said Mr. Rogers was gay. None of this was enough to make me change my mind. All of this is part of my first memory of being alienated from the other guys by liking something different, a state that never really went away.

    Sesame Street was entertaining as heck, and I loved it. But Mr. Rogers stoked my curiosity and taught me how to ask meaningful questions, fueling a love for learning that has never left me and always made me an outsider, even at my college-prep private high school.

    It’s a bit more trendy now to remember Mr. Rogers with fondness, and I want to feel good about it, but mostly I feel slightly resentful. I knew Mr. Rogers was awesome when I was three. Where were all these fans at seven and eight? I don’t need them now; I needed them then.

    Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary by Morgan Neville (who directed the terrific 20 Feet from Stardom) is helping me get over it. I need a movie about kindness at this time when kindness in the media seems scarce, perhaps more than I needed common ground with my guy friends in the mid-1970s. I can’t pretend I’m over anything yet, but I can be reminded that kindness is a mission, that kindness is the high road, and that one of my childhood heroes looked a cynical congressman right in the eye, returned spite with kindness, and saved PBS.

    For about as long as I can remember, I’ve admired rebels. See this movie and understand why.

    8/10
    81/100

  48. Blindspotting (2018)
    Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Wayne Knight. Written by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada.

    It would take longer to describe the plot of Blindspotting than I want to take, and anything I’d write might fail to convince you to see this movie, which is what I really want. The writers (who also star) try to do a lot with this story, most of it successfully, but the accomplishment isn’t in the story; it’s in the development of these characters toward a face-off over issues so layered that it takes all these plot elements to get us ready for it.

    Daveed Diggs plays Collin, a late-20s black man living in a halfway house. He has three days left on his probation after a prison sentence. For three days, he must stay completely out of trouble, but there are pitfalls all over the place in his hometown of Oakland. It’s tempting to think forces are amping up their game against him in these three days, but one gets the feeling after getting to know this man that it’s not these three days: it’s every day that a black man trying to stay clear must dodge problems.

    Collin’s best friend since childhood is Miles, a white man who seems to think it necessary to prove in every waking moment that he’s as street as any of the black men and women he’s friends with. Miles doesn’t just walk the line; he takes daily steps over it, I guess because he can.

    Collin’s loyalty to Miles may be wearing itself out, the way childhood friendship sometimes do, and it is the central tension in this film, but it’s only one of many tensions. Oakland is having an identity crisis as hipsters gentrify formerly decrepit neighborhoods, and its longtime residents have mixed reactions to the transformation. Police officers and black men have the problems police officers and black men have in many other American cities. And Collin can’t get his ex-girlfriend to warm up to him after his prison time.

    Blindspotting has a lot to say, and it brilliantly says most of it through the lives of these characters. This is when it works. Sometimes it says it through the mouths of the characters, almost in Greek chorus-like fashion, and here is where it doesn’t quite work. I suspect there’s a cultural barrier here for me, as the characters repeatedly break out into spoken-word, freestyle verse of the sort that some call slam poetry. When it’s playful it’s cute and clever. When it’s dramatic, I have difficulty taking it seriously. And while I admire the device for its vision, creativity, and daring, it doesn’t quite click things into place the way it wants.

    As a result, the film has two climaxes, one that’s amazing, moving, and beautiful, and one that’s strange, awkward, and contrived. I’m grateful for them both. A fifty percent success rate when you’re trying to do something nobody’s ever seen in a movie is tremendous.

    Excellent acting and great dialogue make it worth a look all by themselves, but there’s so much more going on here, a reminder that people have a lot to say, and a reminder that film is one medium through which they can say it.

    8/10
    84/100

  49. I’m going to an early screening of Crazy Rich Asians this evening. Wasn’t that excited until I got about 2/3 of the way through the novel today during my break. Probably have enough time to finish the book before the show, and now I’m kind of amped.

  50. When you write the Crazy Rich review, I’d be interested in hearing comments about the film in relation to something like Joy Luck Club. Some of the comments about Crazy Rich makes me think of Wang’s film. Some questions that come to mind: Why didn’t Joy Luck lead to more Asian-American films? Does Crazy Rich have more potential to do that, and if so why? Will it have a bigger impact on mainstream American culture?

  51. Triple 9 (2013)
    Dir. John Hilcoat
    Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ojiofor, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, etc.
    48/100

    Often, when Hollywood films fail, something goes wrong with the story. For action-oriented films, this often involves something unbelievable happening or some stupid development. But sometimes these films fizzle because the film develops in a way that is neither dumb nor fully satisfying. That’s what happened in this film in my view.

    The movie involves a group of crooked cops and ex-mercenaries who rob banks for a Russian mob. The group wants to end the relationship but they must perform one last job to do so. In the mean time, one cop (Harrelson) is investigating one of the heists. His nephew (Affleck) becomes a partner to one of the crooked cops.

    The film really did have potential, and the plot isn’t the only problem. In this film, there really isn’t a central character, one you can really latch onto and care about. Sometimes, as in ensemble pictures, this is OK, but I feel like in this film you needed at least two characters to really care about. I think the film largely fails at this, maybe because the director. Also, Kate Winslet is in this, and I don’t think she works in her role.

  52. Enemy (2013)
    Dir. Denis Villeneuve
    Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal
    68/100 (possibly higher)

    If I had to choose a director whose films I’m most interested in seeing, Villeneuve might be near the top. This was an interesting film, but one I didn’t fully get. A few years ago, this would have been a film I spent time analyzing, trying to a get a better grasp of it.

    Gyllenhaal plays a history professor who watches a film, sees an actor that captures his attention, and seeks to meet the actor.

  53. A Simple Favor (2018)
    Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding.  Written by Jessica Sharzer (based on the novel by Darcey Bell).  Directed by Paul Feig.

    A Simple Favor is being marketed as a thriller, but it’s really more of a mystery, so if you’re put off by thrillers (as I am), be assured that it’s not very scary and not very violent, and it doesn’t have edge-of-your-seat moments the way thrillers usually do.

    Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, a widowed mother who puts her name next to three jobs for her young son’s class party sign-up sheet while the other parents say mean things about her behind her back.  When she’s not volunteering for class mom activities, she produces a vlog for other moms.

    She meets Emily, the beautiful mother of her son’s classmate.  Stephanie and Emily become friends, but for Stephanie it’s a very uneasy friendship.  Emily is wealthier, more successful, and more adventurous than she is, and where Stephanie is eager to please and quick to apologize, Emily seems to disdain any attitude that doesn’t begin with oneself.  She admonishes Stephanie for saying “I’m sorry,” and threatens to punch her in the face if Stephanie ever says it again.

    Emily disappears a week after she befriends Stephanie, and the rest of the film involves finding out what happened to her.

    It’s fun in the way a good puzzle mystery is fun, engaging all the way and difficult to predict.  Every character seems at times likeable and despicable, with nice performances by Kendrick, Lively, and Henry Golding as Sean, Stephanie’s husband.

    Early promo materials (including trailers) featured only Kendrick and Lively, but the success of Crazy Rich Asians, which stars Golding, had the studio releasing new promos highlighting all three principal actors.  This is not meaningless: there’s no way to tell if it’s lasting, but there has already been a Crazy Rich Asians diversity effect even on films already completed before its release.

    Anna Kendrick is my second-favorite actress over the past several years, so there’s a huge bias here, but if you also find her charming, you’ll want to see this film.  If not, deduct a few points and see it anyway for a good two hours of engaging escapism.

    79/100
    7/10

  54. Searching (2018)
    John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La. Written by Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian. Directed by Aneesh Chaganty.

    Searching is the second movie I’ve seen in September 2018 that’s marketed as a thriller but is really a mystery. So if you are not thrilled by thrillers (as I am not), don’t let the trailer keep you away. There are a couple of dark episodes, but the film stays away from edge-of-your-seat suspense or immediate peril for the main character. The main character’s teenaged daughter disappears and may be dead, and very sensitive parents may wish to skip it for this reason, but even with this major plot element, the film is really not at all scary.

    Some viewers, however, may find it gimmicky. The entire movie is seen on electronic screens of some sort, usually computer screens and smartphone screens. Even when we’re looking at live news reports, we see them not on television, but via streaming through a web browser. There’s a good reason for the gimmick, and although this device forces the filmmakers to resort to some unrealistic exposition by way of news reporters who say things they would never say (and televise things they would never televise), it’s worth this bit of tradeoff for the social issues they explore. In this way, Searching is not a bad partner for Eighth Grade.

    Cho is David Kim, the recently widowed father of Margot, a high-achieving high-school senior. Margot disappears one night when she’s supposed to be at a study group. As police detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) and her team trace the evidence, they ask David to contact all of Margot’s friends to try and figure out where she might have gone. The more David looks, the clearer it is that he really doesn’t know his daughter.

    It’s pretty cool to see Cho carry a film pretty much entirely on his own. Messing is a supporting actor at best here, and Cho is more than up to the task. The film has a few flaws best left for the viewer to discover (or not care about). I’m willing to look the other way because the story is engaging and surprisingly not preachy about the things it wishes us to consider. In my own writing, I frequently ask, “How does any of us survive childhood?” Searching proposes another side of the question I’ve honestly never considered: How does any of us survive parenthood?

    7/10
    73/100

  55. Peppermint (2018)
    Jennifer Garner. Written by Chad St. John. Directed by Pierre Morel.

    Riley North witnesses the horrible murder of her husband and young daughter. A crooked system lets the perpetrators get off with no punishment, so Riley disappears for a few years, showing up in time to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the murder, but this time with Jason-Bourne-like skills. And she’s not back to offer second chances.

    A movie like this is pretty much review-proof. It’s Jennifer Garner in badass mode, as she was in her Alias TV program. I was aware of its terrible reviews before I went in, but whatever. It’s Jennifer Garner.

    Even the bad reviews acknowledge that Garner is pretty good in it, and she is. I think only Julia Roberts among current actresses holds a screen better than Garner, and as long as the script keeps finding new ways for her to exact her revenge, I’m unlikely to find any of it boring.

    I dislike the concept of a vigilante, but I do enjoy vigilante movies, and how many have female leads? Seriously, you can put Riley right up there with any of them. I like her better than Charles Bronson in Death Wish or Clint Eastwood in those westerns. I don’t care that there is nary an explanation to be found for her quickly attained super-amazing death-machine skills. I just want more Peppermint.

    Predictable, formulaic, incredible? Yes, all of those. But fun, too. Sequel, please!

    6/10
    63/100

  56. The Bookshop (2018)
    Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Honor Kneafsey, James Lance. Written by Isabel Coixet, based on the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald. Directed by Isabel Coixet.

    Florence Green is a middle-aged widow living in a very damp coastal English town. She opens a bookshop, despite reservations by (and condescending advice from) supposedly smarter men like her banker and her solicitor, and despite strong discouragement from Violet Gamart, an elder socialite who envisions a community arts center in the space Florence purchases for her shop.

    A smart, young farm girl works for Florence after school, and the two ladies form a nice mentor-apprentice relationship. A wealthy recluse (played by Bill Nighy, one of my favorites) is one of her steadiest clients, and the bookshop seems to take hold in its little corner of this town among other residents as well, but Violet still wants her arts center.

    The Bookshop is a wonderfully moody film, colored with the grayish blues and grayish grays a lot of post-WWII films set in England seem to favor. England, like the rest of the world, still feels the effects of the war, and people seem to want connections where connections may be elusive. Florence’s tenuous but intriguing connections, made through the drawing power of her bookshop, seem to bring together people who have difficulty connecting otherwise.

    Like her bookshop, Florence may not belong in this place among these people, but like her bookshop, she appeals to the people who need these connections even if maybe they never realized it.

    I love this movie. I love Emily Mortimer’s quirky but dignified performance as Florence, and of course I love Bill Nighy whose Edmund Brundish has all kinds of locks begging to be sprung.

    I imagine this is the film people are thinking of when they say they dislike British films (it’s Spanish, but whatever). For me, it’s a desperately needed scratch of my long-neglected Merchant-Ivory itch and I can’t wait to see it again.

    9/10
    91/100

  57. Juliet, Naked (2018)
    Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O’Dowd, Megan Dodds.  Written by Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor, Phil Alden Robinson, and Evgenia Peretz (based on the novel by Nick Hornby).  Directed by Jesse Peretz.

    Tucker Carlson released one moderately successful album called Juliet and then disappeared.  Decades later, his fans dedicate their free time to deconstructing the album and speculating on Carlson’s whereabouts in an online forum run by Duncan Thomson, a college lecturer in a small town in England.  Duncan’s live-in girlfriend and the central character in Juliet, Naked is Annie Platt, the curator and director of the town’s museum.

    Juliet, Naked is the title of a new release of the classic album, but stripped down to its essential vocals and acoustic guitar, perhaps demo recordings of the songs before they were recorded and mixed for the final product.  It seems to appear out of nowhere, and of course the rabid fanbase is ecstatic.

    Annie is less so, and when she expresses her feelings about the album, she sets into motion a weird sequence of events leading to Annie’s serious questioning about her life choices.  She knows exactly how she got to where she is, but is she satisfied? Is it too late for a redo on some of it?

    It would be easy to call this film a romance, and there are romantic elements here.  Yet Annie’s relationship with Duncan is only part of her reflection, merely representative of many choices she never pursued or opportunities she let go.  The possibility of a new relationship simply provides the catalyst for this self-evaluation.

    What I love most about Juliet, Naked besides Rose Byrne’s excellent performance is how correspondence by email and in text messages with an unexpected friend forces Annie to articulate the specifics of her life and how she feels about them.  Annie deconstructs her relationship, her family, her job, and her small town in what becomes essentially a journal with an audience.

    When Annie is finally ready to do or not do something about where she finds herself, it isn’t because some guy walks into her life, or some other guy sees the error of his ways and redeems himself.  She makes her choices because self-examination empowers her.

    Ethan Hawke can be an annoying actor.  I find myself demanding he prove his sincerity with every performance, even in those great sequels to Before Sunrise.  Here is a film where he mostly wins me over (despite one suspiciously gratuitous piano performance), one of the best roles I’ve seen him in.  Byrne has what I think of as the Emily Blunt role, which used to be the Minnie Driver role, but she does it in the sweetest, most relatable way that makes me wish she had more starring vehicles.

    My only real problem with the movie is the Nick Hornby effect.  I care about Annie and don’t want her mixed up with any of the men in Nick Hornby stories.  Not John Cusack, not Hugh Grant, not Ethan Hawke, and certainly not Nick Hornby. None of these guys can be trusted, and I left the theater confident in Annie’s ability to deal with whatever comes her way, but I don’t want a Nick Hornby to be one of those things.

    8/10
    83/100

  58. The Wife (2018)
    Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater. Written by Jane Anderson. Directed by Björn Runge.

    At first I didn’t quite see what the critics were reporting, that Glenn Close’s performance in The Wife was sure to earn her a nomination for a Best Actress Oscar. Close is pretty much always very good, and this role of Joan Castleman didn’t seem to stretch her at all. Sure, there are some pretty fiery moments where Joan and her husband Joe Castleman argue almost to the point of throwing blows or objects, but this stuff is a cakewalk to someone of Close’s talent.

    Then there’s the last act of the film, where Joan’s barely controlled fury threatens to blow everything in the room to pieces, and it’s an amazing thing to witness. She is certain to be nominated for best actress, and she’s going to be among the favorites to win.

    Joe is informed in the first scene that he is this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The movie then alternates between its present day and the early days of the Castlemans’ relationship. This is a movie about Joan’s role in Joe’s literary career, which includes the raising of two children—a well-adjusted adult daughter and a troubled adult son, who accompanies his parents to Stockholm for the awards ceremony.

    It’s a pretty good story, but the reason to see it is the acting, which is excellent without being especially pyrotechnic. I was really pleased to see Christian Slater as a wanna-be biographer tailing the Castlemans despite their open dislike of him. Slater brings his slimiest best, all the sneaky, sleazy acting that made him a Gen X icon, minus the rebellious self-righteousness. I won’t be surprised if there’s some supporting actor love for him at Oscar time.

    Close’s real-life daughter Annie Stark is a nice discovery as young Joan.

    I’m giving it a few extra points for being a literary-themed movie, one of my admitted biases. Worth a look even if it’s not one of yours.

    8/10
    80/100

  59. Man, that’s three films in the 80s range. I feel like it’s been forever since I’ve seen a film like that. (Then again, I don’t watch a lot of movies these days.)

  60. White Boy Rick (2018)
    Richie Merritt, Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Tyree Henry, Bruce Dern, Piper Laurie. Written by Andy Weiss, Logan Miller, and Noah Miller. Directed by Yann Demange.

    It’s difficult to know how to feel about what happens to Rick Wershe, Jr. at the end of White Boy Rick, and this makes it difficult to decide how I feel about the movie. Do we care more about justice in the eyes of the law, or justice according to a sense of right and wrong, and how do Rick’s choices stand up to either standard? If the film wants us to take a side, I can’t tell which it is.

    This makes me dissatisfied with the film, which is a disappointment because I like and care about this character, and Richie Merritt as White Boy Rick does a nice job playing him. Guided by a sense that life is ripping him off but feeling empowered to do something about it, Rick is suspicious of his father’s optimistic outlook and unsure what to do about a junkie older sister whom he cares very deeply about.

    Rick Sr. is a licensed gun dealer who operates outside the law. He’s a smart, principled man who may have made a few mistakes as a younger man but who tries to do right for his family now. As role models go, one could probably find a lot worse in 1980s Detroit. Rick Jr. helps his dad with the business, gaining the friendship and trust of a local drug ring. When he’s offered money by the FBI to inform on some of the neighborhood suppliers, he reluctantly accepts the gig, becoming (according to some of the film’s publicity materials) the youngest FBI informant in history at age 14.

    It’s fairly easy to read Rick Sr.’s moral code, but Rick Jr.’s is still being formed. Which of his bad decisions are mere errors in judgment and which are dictated by a slightly skew sense of right and wrong? I’m okay with a movie whose position differs from mine on this, but the movie doesn’t seem to take a position, taking some of the power out of some very good performances.

    I’ve heard some critics say the McConaughssance is over, but the evidence here would suggest otherwise. It’s a solid, sympathetic performance from McConaughey, and I also really like Jennifer Jason Leigh as Rick Jr.’s handler, Brian Tyree Henry (Paper Boy in the excellent FX series Atlanta) as a local Detroit police officer, and Taylour Paige as the wife of the leader of Rick Jr.’s drug-dealing friends.

    This film came close to being good.

    6/10
    64/100

  61. The Happytime Murders (2018)
    Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, Elizabeth Banks, Bill Barretta, Dorien Davies. Written by Todd Berger. Directed by Brian Henson.

    Picture a world like the one in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? but instead of humans and toons, the world is cohabited by humans and puppets with serious discrimination against puppets. This is the world in which The Happytime Murders is set, only instead of some made-up town, we are right in Los Angeles with all its glamour and sleaze.

    Mostly sleaze.

    And instead of playing pattycake, the characters have all manner of strange methods for pleasing each other, not to mention all manner of bodily fluids spewing everywhere.

    Phil Phillips was once the first puppet in the L.A. Police Department, but an error in judgment got him fired, and now he’s a private investigator specializing in wrongs done by humans against puppets. A hard-boiled Philip Marlowe type, Phil is lonely and apparently haunted by demons we don’t discover until we’re knee-deep in the plot. And Silly String.

    Some high-profile people and puppets are murdered in what appear to be related crimes, so Phil’s former chief of police deputizes Phil and assigns him to his former partner, a human played by Melissa McCarthy.

    If this same movie were cast entirely with humans and no other changes, it would probably be a hard NC-17, but you can get away with a lot more when half the characters are puppets (performed by Jim Henson’s Muppets). Members of the creative team clearly asked themselves what puppets were physically capable of as well as what puppets could get away with in a movie, and pushed right up against the line.

    So it’s a fun, creative, raunchy-as-heck movie and I appreciated it for these reasons. Phil is a loveable, beat-down character it’s hard not to like, and McCarthy does what she usually does very well: play crass while remaining vulnerably human. It mostly works.

    Where it falls short is in its plot. It’s okay that it’s not very twisted or complicated, but it begins to get dreary and barely interesting about two-thirds of the way through, and the resolution feels strangely dark, like those Dirty Harry movies where the bad guys are dead and the good guy is alive, but yuck. You need a shower.

    I discovered the day after I saw this film that I laughed a lot harder telling someone else what’s in it than I did actually watching it. It appears to be hilarious in concept and even execution while awkward or grim in performance. Or something like that.

    Even now, I think about an octopus and a cow (all those arms; all those teats) and I laugh aloud. I didn’t laugh aloud when it played out in front of me.

    Totally worth a free stream but I wouldn’t recommend paying movie theater prices for this.  And keep the kids away!

    5/10
    55/100

  62. The Equalizer 2 (2018)
    Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo. Written by Richard Wenk. Directed by Antoine Fuqua.

    I never saw 2014’s The Equalizer, so The Equalizer 2 is completely fresh snow for me, and it’s not bad if you don’t mind your snow a little on the vindictive side.

    Robert McCall is a Lyft driver in Massachusetts, where he reads a lot of books and looks after an old man in a retirement home while lecturing some of the local kids on the value of hard work or something kind of Furious-Styles-sounding. He’s something of a neighborhood vigilante, a very violent, fearless vigilante who takes on groups of young men for assaulting the young women in the neighborhood.

    Someone close to McCall is murdered, and there (apparently) aren’t very many people close to McCall, so he goes after the people responsible, only he doesn’t know who these people are. At first.

    Everything I feel I needed to know about McCall is covered by the fact that he’s reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me right before he destroys a train car full of very bad men. So I kind of like him even if it seems he’s got his fingers in far too many pies. Denzel in badass mode is great if he isn’t allowed to ham it up.

    About those pies: the story tries to do twenty things and I would normally be annoyed or distracted or dissatisfied, but I was really just along for the ride.  Yeah, the story is too busy and too involved, but okay.

    Alas, the film is directed by Antoine Fuqua, and I haven’t seen all of his movies with Denzel, but I’ve seen Training Day, a film I disliked because Denzel hams it up like an Easter brunch. Thankfully, there are only a couple of offending scenes like this here, but there was a moment where I was half-certain McCall was about to proclaim at the top of his lungs that King Kong ain’t got s*** on him. I tolerated these couple of scenes because I like the rest of this film just fine.

    You know what? I’m adding the first film to my Netflix DVD queue. And I’d pay to see another of these. Please, though, can we get a different director?

    5/10
    50/100

  63. The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)
    Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Gillian Anderson. Written by Susanna Fogel and David Iserson. Directed by Susanna Fogel.

    The Spy Who Dumped Me is not the first female buddy-cop flick, but in the summer of 2018, its existence and moderate success feel like a statement. I was happy to see it just to express my support for such a film, and in fact am disappointed in the title, which refers to a male character who’s pretty much not even in the movie. This is a movie about two friends, not a man who dumps a woman.

    As a friend movie, it works pretty well. Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon play nicely off each other, and there are moments of very believable affection, not for any of the many men in the picture, but for each friend by the other. That they can develop and portray this relationship in front of this spy-vs-spy backdrop of a plot feels like a statement as well, and although I admire the concept, the execution leaves a bit to be desired.

    I didn’t care for the violence, which seems to push past gratuitous and into sadistic, and I mean sadistic toward its audience. People come to horrific ends, almost always men and almost always after establishing some kind of rapport with the main characters. Is this also part of the big statement? If it is, there’s probably more going on here than I thought.

    One very memorable scene involves our main characters, Audrey and Morgan (her name is Morgan Freeman, believe it or not), interacting with a couple of younger twenty-something women. Audrey and Morgan, probably in their early to mid thirties, are smart and funny, and they’re in the midst of a life-or-death situation with international spies.

    These two younger women are vapid and giggly. Are Audrey and Morgan looking at their former selves, kind of disgusted with what they see but experienced enough to manipulate it? Or are they looking at the idea of young women in movies, nearly completely useless in a genre almost always dominated by men?

    There’s something here, but my brain was too bored by the third act to try and put it all together. I don’t think it’s the fault of the actors so much as a general problem with the genre.

    Oh yeah, the plot. Audrey is dumped by her boyfriend Drew. She learns from some guy she meets that Drew is a spy. Drew tells Audrey they must travel together to Vienna to turn over a certain item, but Drew is murdered. Morgan convinces Audrey that they need to fly to Vienna and complete the mission, but someone advises them to trust nobody. Violence. Comedy. Female bonding. Possible romance. Women discover they’ve got more in them than they thought. 117 minutes that could have been 93.

    6/10
    61/100

  64. Puzzle (2018)
    Kelly Macdonald, Irfan Khan, David Denman. Written by Oren Moverman and Polly Mann. Directed by Marc Turtletaub.

    People who know me don’t have to be told I’m predisposed toward liking a movie about a middle-aged homemaker questioning her choices and discovering a love for solving jigsaw puzzles. It’s like this movie was made for me, so take my recommendation with this in mind.

    Agnes feels she’s been taken for granted by her family: a hard-working, loving husband who doesn’t seem to need much from her outside meals and companionship, and two adult sons who respect her but don’t know anything about her.

    A day after a birthday party thrown for Agnes which she seems to have done all the prepping for and cleaning up after, Agnes takes a few moments for herself, apparently a rare occurrence. One friend has given her a jigsaw puzzle as a birthday gift. She spends the day completing it, and then breaking it apart so she can complete it again.

    Dinner is forgotten in these puzzle-solving moments. And when her family expresses annoyance at having been put on the back burner, Agnes begins to resent the role she may have carved out for herself.

    She goes to a puzzle shop and buys another.

    Soon, she is secretly practicing a few times a week with a new puzzle-solving partner—an independently wealthy inventor, recently single, who watches the news all day because he’s fascinated by the destruction.

    I saw Puzzle five days after seeing Juliet, Naked, and they are nice complements for one another. Both movies feature middle-aged women questioning their choices, wondering if it’s not too late for a do-over on some of them. I like them both, but I like Puzzle quite a bit more. Whether it’s because of its puzzles theme, because it’s considerably more anguished, or because it leaves a bit more to the viewer to interpret doesn’t really matter to me; it’s probably all three.

    “Why do we love puzzles?” one character asks.

    “It’s a way to control the chaos,” says another.

    Heck yeah.

    9/10
    90/100

  65. Eighth Grade (2018)
    Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson. Written and directed by Bo Burnham.

    Kayla is in the last week of eighth grade, where she’s pretty close to invisible and doesn’t seem to have any close friends. Her classmates vote her “Most Quiet,” which bugs Kayla. She doesn’t think of herself as quiet; she doesn’t want to be quiet. She has things to say, but she can’t seem to interest anyone in hearing her.

    Like many young men and women, Kayla spends most of her waking time in front of a screen. A smartphone from which she Snapchats her activity, a MacBook on which she produces YouTube self-help videos for almost no audience. In these videos, she presents herself as socially competent, a positive thinker, an assertive friend. She’s none of these things in real life, and the only person who seems genuinely interested in everything going on with her is the one person she doesn’t want listening: her single-parent father.

    Because most of us were eighth-graders millions of years ago, we’re like Kayla’s dad. We see what a bright, interesting, resilient young woman Kayla is. Unlike Kayla, we also see that the young people around her, the popular kids throwing pool parties at their huge homes and the nerdy cousins and the handsome (barely pubescent) jocks all have their own growing pains.

    Perhaps they struggle differently, but they struggle as deeply. Kayla doesn’t see that the pool party girl knows her married mom flirts shamelessly with Kayla’s dad, or that the nerdy boy is, by virtue of being the least cool person in the room, perhaps the only person at the party not pretending to be something he’s not, and therefore the one most worthy of her friendship.

    Kayla takes a foray or two into the world of grownups (read: high-schoolers) where she sort-of experiences the kind of acceptance she longs for. I don’t know what such excursions were like for anyone else, but I imagine Kayla doesn’t see anything especially unusual.

    Which makes Eighth Grade one of the realest looking movies about pre-high-school I’ve ever seen. Performances all around are solid and thoughtful, and the script brilliantly gives grownups (read: people old enough to be Kayla’s parent) one film and young people another, both of them sincere and provocative. This is one of the best movies for younger teens I’ve seen in a very long time.

    9/10
    92/100

  66. A Star Is Born (1937)
    Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, Lionel Stander.  Directed by William A. Wellman.

    Esther Blodgett is a North Dakota farm girl with dreams of Hollywood stardom.  The original A Star is Born movie pretty much begins with her family thinking she’s crazy for even entertaining the notion.  Her grandma, however, believes that if you’re willing to risk everything in pursuit of your goals, you have to do it.

    Esther relocates to Hollywood, where she discovers the supply of young, aspiring actresses far exceeds the demand.  She’s about to give up when a chance encounter with one of filmdom’s legends, Norman Maine, leads to an audition, a minor supporting role, and the lead in her own film.  Soon, her career is on the rise while Norman’s is on the decline.

    The Esther-Norman relationship drives the film, because while Esther may have needed Norman’s little boost to get through the door, she’s not at all dependent or needy in her relationship with Norman or in any other relationship.  Norman clearly needs her far more than she needs him. She just really, really loves him, and he doesn’t quite know how to be loved.

    In nearly every way, A Star is Born looks and feels like the popular movies of its time, but with a smart, strong woman taking the lead.  Norman is no tragic hero—he’s not a hero at all—but he’s a man loved by a woman. Could his demise have been reversed by a woman like this, or by anyone?  The film seems to think not, and as Norman travels along his beautiful, downward spiral, Esther goes along with him because someone has to try.

    Fredric March as Norman and Janet Gaynor as Esther are a great screen couple, and Gaynor’s performance is especially impressive, the best reason to watch this film more than once.

    75/100
    7/10

  67. A Star is Born (1954)
    Judy Garland, James Mason. Written by Moss Hart. Directed by George Cukor.

    Esther Blodgett is a singer in a band when she meets Norman Maine, a Hollywood star at the very beginning of his career’s decline. Although this 1954 version is my least favorite of the four A Star is Born films, Esther and Norman’s meeting in this one is the best. Norman’s drunk when he wanders onto a stage where Esther and her band are performing. Rather than let Norman be embarrassed, Esther quickly incorporates him into the act, as if he were part of the show.

    It’s an immediate display of grace, sensitivity, talent, smarts, and self-assuredness that characterizes Esther throughout the film. If only such economy in development could be employed the rest of the way.

    Instead, we get a three-hour marathon that’s alternately engaging and sloggy. Everything we love about younger Judy Garland is right here, as if the film were written about her, and everything some of us (me) hate about 1950s movie musicals and their showtunes is right here as well, in overwrought, boring excess.

    Take out most of the songs, and the film would be a pleasant length, but the filmmakers are determined to make it a comeback tour de force for Garland, who’d been out of movies for four years following the end of her time with MGM.

    I’m grateful that this movie holds true to the original in one very important aspect of Esther’s career. Although Norman cracks the door open for Esther’s chance in the movies, Esther kicks it down with her talent, charm, and niceness. She’s pretty, but she’s not that pretty, just like the first Esther Blodgett. Some guy who has the hots for her does her a favor, but Esther makes Esther. It’s the best thing about the film.

    When Esther’s first major film premieres for the Hollywood VIPs, we’re treated not only to a few minutes, but what feels like practically the entire movie. It’s misery.

    Esther’s career is on the rise, while Norman’s is on a self-destructive path downward. It’s just as interesting as the original except that James Mason’s Norman Maine is not nearly as likeable as Fredric March’s and there’s really very little romantic chemistry between Garland and Mason. They’re much better and much more believable as best friends.

    Could have been a great movie if not for all those songs!

    6/10
    61/100

  68. A Star is Born (1976)
    Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson. Written by Frank Pierson, John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion. Directed by Frank Pierson.

    This second remake of A Star is Born is the logical bookend for the collection. In 1937, Janet Gaynor played a rising movie star. In 1954, Judy Garland played a rising star of movie musicals. Now in 1976 Barbra Streisand plays a rising star of pop music, this time as Esther Hoffman instead of Esther Blodgett, with Kris Kristofferson as her alcoholic discoverer, John Norman Howard instead of Norman Maine.

    “Are you a figment of my imagination,” John asks the audience as he takes the stage for a live performance, “or am I one of yours?” It’s a great line, practically an epitaph, and John repeats it until it moves past poetry and into cliché, a rather excellent statement about self-destructive rock stars and the relationships they find themselves in all the time, according to VH-1 True Hollywood Stories.

    Kristofferson provides the movie something the earlier versions didn’t: a male lead with charisma to tug back against the star. John’s rock-star magnetism and rough road-weariness almost make alcoholism sexy, where in 1937 and 1954 all it did was make men weak. I want to say I disapprove of such representation, but it feels appropriate, and it makes for a much better dynamic.

    John discovers Esther when, after a big concert, he orders his limo driver to take him to the bar where Esther is performing. From the beginning, she’s confrontational and tough. John’s drunken behavior is messing up her gig, and she tells him so right in the middle of her show. When John takes her home after the show and offers to come up, Esther says no, but he’s welcome to show up for breakfast in a few hours if he’s up for it.

    Esther calls the shots in this relationship from the beginning, and while John nudges her onto the stage for her turn in the spotlight, her success, like the successes of the Esther Blodgetts before her, is entirely hers. A star is born; she isn’t made.

    The music in this incarnation is far better than in 1954, and although Esther’s songs don’t exactly thrill me, she performs them with a sexy stage presence that makes it difficult to turn away. John’s country-flavored rock has the outlaw vibe of Kristofferson’s own music, and my only complaint about his performance is that we don’t get to hear enough of it. Darn alcoholism.

    This remake suffers from some of the same period-related stuff as the first remake. It worships Streisand the actress-singer a bit too adoringly and segues twice into that Seventies staple, the golden sunlight country road long drive music video, complete with lens flares. You see the first one coming a mile away, and the second one is only a surprise because who expects that twice?

    Some of the pacing is also misguided. There are a time and place for candlelit bathtub lovemaking scenes, I suppose, although what they are I can’t tell you. Esther’s fights with John also get tiresome and too long. They love each other but it’s a damaged relationship. We get it.

    It’s pretty harsh to blame a 1970s film for being too 1970s, but I blame the 1954 film for being too 1950s, and the enduring films of any era should be called out for their excesses. It’s a fine movie with some definite highlights and a few too many self-indulgences.

    6/10
    67/100

  69. I think I’ve only seen the 1954 version. I’m wondering if the scores reflect the way you’d rank the films (i.e., the highest score would be the best of the three)?

    1. Yes, and I admit I had that in mind when I settled on scores for each one. I already knew which I thought were best and worst. Not the best way to do it but forcing objectivity that way was difficult.

      1. Yeah, I think I know what you mean.

        There’s a way to evaluate a film strictly independently of other films. But you can also evaluate a film by factoring other films you’ve seen–e.g., “If I give this film a 62, that seems high because I gave Grease a 62 as well.” When you start calibrating your scores this way, I don’t know if that’s a such a good thing, although maybe it is.

        That might not exactly what you’re talking about, though, because you’re reviewing remakes. Did you see the newest version, yet?

  70. I watched a recent documentary on Quincy Jones. If the documentary is about someone I have interest in, these films can be good for moments when I just want a diversion; I don’t really expect a lot, and I actually expect to be disappointed if the subject is a musician (because the film will not go into the music as much as I would like). That’s basically the case for this film.

  71. A Star is Born (2018)
    Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay. Written by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters. Directed by Bradley Cooper.

    It was seventeen years between Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland, twenty-two years between Garland and Barbra Streisand, and now forty-two years between Streisand and Lady Gaga as the titular star in A Star is Born. I mention this only because I’m thinking about the disconnect I felt with the music in the 1954 version and about how much I enjoyed the music in this 2018 version. Some stories deserve to be retold in ways that connect to their intended audiences, and maybe this is one.

    Some people say once a film has achieved cultural icon status, there’s no point in remaking it, but I’m not one of these people. Art is consumed, but it is also created, and its creation is most often where the magic and beauty are, and if we didn’t all feel this way we would be stuck with one interpretation of Romeo and Juliet and one version of “All Along the Watchtower.” The world would be a poorer place.

    Is the world a richer place with this third remake of A Star is Born? It’s too early to tell, but it’s already spawned one hit single (“Shallow”) and Oscar buzz for its stars. Of the four films, it has the best music and possibly the best acting, and if anyone in the cast wins an acting Oscar it will be a first: Gaynor and Fredric March lost to Louise Rainer and Spencer Tracy. Garland and James Mason lost to Grace Kelly and Marlon Brando (The Country Girl and On the Waterfront—they never had a chance!). Neither Streisand nor Kris Kristofferson were nominated for acting awards, but Streisand did win an Oscar for best song.

    More important, Gaga and Cooper have something different to say in this telling of the tale. There was a hint of a statement in the 1976 film about rock music and pop, but here it seems to be the central theme. This movie is less about a relationship, less about self-destructive personalities, and more about music and success. This may also be its biggest shortcoming, but the shift in emphasis validates a third remake.

    Our falling star is now named Jackson Maine and our rising star is Ally Campana, and their meeting is very much like Esther’s meeting John in 1976. Ally’s singing in a drag show when a drunk Jackson stumbles in. Their connection is nearly immediate, and they get to know each other very quickly. Before they’ve been acquainted 48 hours, Jackson practically forces Ally onstage to perform one of her songs. She’s an immediate hit.

    The first half of this movie is better than any half of any of its predecessors. Cooper and Gaga are a joy to watch, crackling with chemistry and sincerity. Cooper adopts a Kristofferson-like look and sound, while Gaga is all kinds of humility and sweetness Streisand couldn’t approach (and possibly only Gaynor equaled). Gaga’s music in real life doesn’t do a thing for me; if it moves me at all it moves me out the door. But here in their early scenes, absent the veneer of a pop show with all its choreography, makeup, costumes, and sheen, we have an actress perhaps less skilled than her opposite but making up for it with utter vulnerability.

    Ally on stage is likeable, but her pop music feels fake, and if that weren’t blatant enough a statement, there’s a moment where Jackson offers her a pep talk, saying her audiences will love her if she always effing means what she’s singing.

    But as Sam Adams wrote in his critique on Slate, “the further from Jackson’s influence Ally gets, the worse her music becomes.” Cooper’s message may not be as overt as Adams interprets it, but there’s so much in the setup about having a voice, having something to say, and trusting others that he’s definitely on to something.

    The worsening of Ally’s music doesn’t necessarily dictate a worsening of the story, but it is the case here, and the second half is a letdown after such a promising setup. Still, my fondness for the film is salvaged by a decision Cooper the director makes near the end, giving us something none of the earlier movies offered, making 2018’s A Star is Born the best of the four.

    7/10
    77/100

  72. Shirkers (2018)
    Dir. Sandi Tan
    74/100

    **
    Netflix documentary. The filmmaker (originally from Singapore) tells the story of how she and a group of her friends made a movie when they were in their early twenties. The movie, Shirkers, is road film about a young woman who is a kind of serial killer. The film is the type of movie that would be made by the lead characters in Be Kind, Rewind–movies that are totally low-budget, but filled with enthusiasm and creativity, creating a kind of magic, in spite of technical and financial limitations. Tan features interviews of the friends that made the movie, and, for me, there was a kind of vicarious nostalgia that I experienced. While I obviously wasn’t involved in making the film, seeing Tan and her friend recount the experience, including the crazy ambition and passion as well as the travails, made me think of the ambition I had as a young person.

    (Note: I’m purposely leaving some important details from the film, wanting others to experience them as they watch the film.)

  73. FilmStruck is shutting down, so Criterion is about to launch its own streaming service. Looks like $90 a year if you sign up now (off $100 a year, I think). I’m already paying for Amazon Prime, Netflix DVD, and the lowest paid tier of Hulu (which I think I’m going to cancel because I never watch it), plus I have nine months left on gift subscriptions to MoviePass and Fandor, so I already have far more good content than I can reasonably consume, but I think I’m interested. I signed up for a tentative year’s subscription (I’ll decide for sure once it’s actually ready to take payment) just to lock in the lower price.

    I predicted that by now we’d see a reversal of the splintering of hyper-specialized content streams, via some kinds of partnerships between providers, such as the Spotify-Hulu agreement, but that’s not really happening. We’re seeing more splintering, which in some ways is good for the consumer, but which makes decision-making a little tougher. I’m very interested in the ESPN+ service, for example, but do I want to spend the money on that, or would I rather spend the same money on a subscription to AsianCrush? We who want content are going to have to make decisions like this.

    1. I’m tempted to sign up for the Criterion site, but the reality is likely that I won’t watch enough films to make this worth it. There are a bunch of films I’d love to see, particularly those that aren’t available on dvd or blu-ray. Then again, I had the opportunity when criterion was on hulu, but I never took advantage of it. Maybe if I subscribe for a month only and then just quit, this will force me to watch more films. ?

    1. If I felt “forced” that wouldn’t be good, but I’m thinking of it as a nudge. When I had Hulu, I often didn’t watch the criterion films because it was “always there,” so to speak. I could procrastinate, and so I often wouldn’t watch the films. Subscribing for a month would reduce my ability to procrastinate. That’s my theory, anyway.

  74. Green Book (2018)
    Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen. Written by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, and Peter Farrelly. Directed by Peter Farrelly.

    The Green Book, I learned early this year, was a directory published in the United States between the 1930 and 1960s, and listed businesses friendly to African Americans. Michael Wilbon, whose parents were from the South, said they didn’t travel home from Chicago without it. I’m disappointed in myself for not being aware of it, but it’s something that kind of hints at why a movie like this still needs to be made in 2018, and it excuses the film’s one major flaw.

    Mahershala Ali plays pianist Don Shirley, who embarks on a tour of the Midwest and South with the other musicians in his trio, a white bass player and a white violinist. The record company insists he hire a white driver, someone who can keep trouble away from Shirley on the tour. Viggo Mortensen plays Frank Vallelonga, “Tony Lip” to his friends and associates. He’s pretty much a mob-connected goombah whose work history includes “taking care of problems.”

    Much of the plot here is predictable in events and tone. If you’re thinking what I thought when I saw the trailer, that this is kind of a reverse Driving Miss Daisy, you’re not too far off, and this is the flaw. “Pandering,” “condescending,” and “preachy” came to mind as I tried to figure out my feelings midway through the movie, but none of them really hit the mark. Later, I heard someone refer to it as kind of an After School Special, and that’s it. It feels like it exists to teach me a life lesson.

    Yet I just admitted I had no idea the Green Book existed, so how can I blame a film for thinking I should know about it? It doesn’t change my feeling that this tone is a huge flaw, but it softens it a bit.

    What really redeems the film is the fantastic acting by Ali and Mortensen. Each is completely unrecognizable, painting his character with a fine brush, as compared to the sledgehammer offered by much of the plot. There is one heavy-handed Don Shirley monologue that in a lesser actor’s hands could be groan-inducing, but is instead heartbreaking. Shoot, even someone like Denzel Washington, who is by no means a lesser actor, would likely elicit groans here. Instead, Ali presents a lifetime of vulnerability and alienation in a short minute to his tough-guy companion and it’s an amazing thing to see.

    Give some credit to the writers who, in one very tricky moment, turn Frank Vallelonga into the guy the film wants us to believe he is. “The world is a complicated place,” Franks says, and somehow it’s exactly right for Frank, for Don, and for the audience. A moment of gentle grace in a film that often has trouble finding it.

    The acting is so superb that it makes the movie quite a bit better than it should be. The National Board of Review named Green Book the best film of the year. I can’t go that far, but it is the rare movie that rises above its script and becomes something special on the strength of its excellent acting.

    8/10
    80/100

  75. I watched Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) for the first time with my kids, and then watched Pee Wee’s Big Holiday (2016). I lack the interest and motivation to write a review, but here are few thoughts off the top of my head:

    1. The character and the world of the character are pretty interesting–and seems fairly original. Both involve a childlike sensibility. Pee Wee is a child in an adult body, and the world he inhabits feels as if it were created by a child, giving it a silly, unrealistic vibe. This kind of approach had almost no appeal to me when I was younger, and it doesn’t really appeal to me now. However, I do appreciate the originality of this. The vision of Paul Reubens seems pretty original.

    In a way, I think of adult characters that appeal to children–e.g., Captain Kangaroo. Pee Wee has some element of that, but I don’t think the target audience is just children. Reubens seems to be shooting for some gray area in between the two. For example, one common he seems to favor is creating scenes that start of suspense involving sex or violence, but then end in a light, childlike silliness. There were many moments where I worried that my kids would see something inappropriate, but those fears almost always proved unfounded.

    2. I believe Tim Burton directed the first film, and he seems like a good choice, but he didn’t really go far enough. (I don’t think I would have guessed Burton directed the film.) I would have liked to have seen directors like Michel Gondry, Jean-Pierre Jeneut, or Terry Gilliam direct one of these films.

    3. One thing that makes this an 80’s film, in my opinion, is the nostalgia for the 50s. Pee Wee’s hometown is right out of Leave It To Beaver.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *