Friday, September 20, 2019

Ad nauseam


AD ASTRA

Here's James Gray's masterclass on how to ruin a movie that was perfectly great until you got to it in post.

2019
Directed by James Gray
Written by Ethan Gross and James Gray

Spoiler alert: moderate

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Walt Disney, part XVIII: That's right! It's a measure of length!


20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA

So let's see what happens when you take the travelogue, the anti-imperial themes, and the breathless enthusiasm for made-up science out of Jules Verne's anti-imperialist science-fiction travelogue.  Is it still good?  Surprisingly, very slightly yes, but not much.

1954
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Written by Earl Felton (based on the novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Monday, September 16, 2019

Drone shot


DOMINO

It really hasn't been De Palma's best century.

2019
Directed by Brian De Palma
Written by Petter Skavlan

Spoiler alert: moderate

It follows


IT: CHAPTER TWO

Second verse, same as the first.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

2019
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Written by Gary Dauberman (based on the novel It by Stephen King)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Walt Disney, part XVII: A boy's best friend is his mother


PETER PAN

Essentially everything that could be wrong with a mid-century Disney film rolled into a single package, to die might actually have been a bigger adventure than it is (though given that is only 75 minutes, I quite manfully gutted it out).

1953
Directed by Clyde Geronomi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske

Spoiler alert: he never grows up

Friday, August 30, 2019

Walt Disney, part XVI: Who cares for you? You're nothing but a pack of cards


ALICE IN WONDERLAND

Initially wearisome, but ultimately a fair bit of fun, Alice In Wonderland is still minor Walt Disney—as the man himself agreed.

1951
Directed by Clyde Geronomi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske

Spoiler alert: wake up, Alice

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Frady cat


THE PARALLAX VIEW

The only conspiracy thriller so opaque you need to invent a conspiracy theory just to explain it to yourself.

1974
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Written by David Giler, Lorenzo Semple Jr., and (allegedly) Robert Towne (based on the novel by Loren Singer)

Spoiler alert: high

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Elementary, my dear Pikachu


DETECTIVE PIKACHU

A decent-enough frivolity to waste 104 minutes with, and apparently I had more fun with it than I thought.

2019
Directed by Rob Letterman
Written by holy cow, that's a lot of people to write a Pokémon movie

Spoiler alert: Slightly higher than moderate

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

You know I can't let you leave without tapping that ass one more time


DEATH PROOF

The car chase movie to beat them all, and that's only the beginning of its appeal.

2007
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino

Spoiler alert: since there's no use talking about it without talking about it, high

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Walt Disney, part XV: I said, "if"

CINDERELLA

Disney, already clawing its way out of its early grave, came roaring back to life in one of their two closest bids at "masterpiece" in a whole half-century's worth of trying.

1950
Directed by Clyde Geronomi, Hamilton Luske, and Wilfred Jackson

Spoiler alert: she still has the other shoe

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Neighbors


ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD

I never thought I'd be checking my watch during a Tarantino film, but here we are.

2019
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino

Spoiler alert: high

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Walt Disney, part XIV: You can't reason with a headless man


THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD

Half a masterpiece is still something to celebrate, and Disney closed the 1940s out stronger than it had been in years.

1949
Directed by Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronomi, and James Algar

Spoiler alert: moderate

Monday, July 22, 2019

Walt Disney, part XIII: Trees, underwear, and America


MELODY TIME

Great: another half-good, half-crap Disney package film.  Oh, Melody Time.  Whatever shall we do with you?

1948
Directed by Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronomi, Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson, and William Morgan

Spoiler alert: moderate

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The karate kid


THE ART OF SELF DEFENSE

A dark and weird comedy with a point—but probably the most consistently funny thing we'll get this year, so happily it's that kind of "dark and weird comedy with a point"—The Art of Self Defense has a lot on its mind, but lays it out with stark clarity, surprising precision, and strong laughs.

2019
Written and directed by Riley Stearns

Spoiler alert: moderate

Walt Disney, part XII: What was the name of this movie again?


FUN AND FANCY FREE

Breezy and likeable, Fun and Fancy Free is exactly what we needed as we move through the dark days of Disney during the late 1940s.

1947
Directed by Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Hamilton Luske, and William Morgan

Spoiler alert: moderate

Friday, July 19, 2019

Walt Disney, part X: Ain't no rule says a whale can't sing at the Met


MAKE MINE MUSIC

Though blessed with at least one genuine high point, and even a few good bits after that, for the most part this anthology isn't even up-and-down, it's mostly one single flat, boring line, spread across some of the most disposable animation in the whole Disney canon.

1946
Directed by Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronomi, Hamilton Luske, and Joshua Meador

Spoiler alert: moderate

Monday, July 15, 2019

Walt Disney, part IX: I mean, has anyone ever been to Baía?


THE THREE CABALLEROS

The package film era of Disney at its most playful, of course that must be very playful indeed.  Tastes may vary on whether that makes The Three Caballeros actually good or not, but, heck, it's certainly something to see.

1944 Mexico/1945 USA
Directed by Norman Ferguson

Spoiler alert: inapplicable in the extreme

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Apex predator all day


CRAWL

A fun, disciplined trifle, Crawl knows what you want and gives it to you reasonably good and fairly hard.

2019
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Written by Shawn Rasmussen and Michael Rasmussen

Spoiler alert: moderate

Friday, July 12, 2019

Europe after the rain (turns out to be mildly damp)


SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

Man, do even I have superhero fatigue now?

2019
Directed by Jon Watts
Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers

Spoiler alert: high

Sunday, July 7, 2019

This story has never ended


MIND GAME

Still Yuasa's masterpiece, after all these years.

2004 (Japan)/2018 (seriously?) (USA)
Written and directed by Masaaki Yuasa (based on the comic by Robin Nishi)

Spoiler alert: kind of N/A, really, but I guess let's say moderately highish

Summer dreams ripped at the seams, but oh—those summer nights


MIDSOMMAR

While never managing to become "more," and prompting the question, "why do you need it to be 'more' anyway, Ari?", Midsommar is a hell of a good horror film in The Wicker Man vein, and that's still fresh enough that it doesn't matter too much what else is wrong with it.

2019
Written and directed by Ari Aster

Spoiler alert: moderate, though I just mentioned it's a Wicker Man rip-off, so, you know... there's that

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The little mermaid


LU OVER THE WALL

"Oh, boy, it's one of these animes, huh?" is exactly what I said, but as it happens, it is, and it's pretty great anyway.

2017 Japan/2018 USA
Directed by Masaaki Yuasa
Written by Reiko Yoshida and Masaaki Yuasa

Spoiler alert: moderate

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

That rose-colored campus life


THE NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL

A movie of seemingly boundless energy and possibility, Night doesn't always live up to its own potential—nor always put its money where its mouth is, and there's a good twenty minutes in the middle where it's not doing either one—but that doesn't mean it's not one of the most essential animated films of the last year, or even the last decade.

2017 Japan/2018 USA
Directed by Masaaki Yuasa
Written by Makoto Ueda (based on the novel by Tomihiko Morimi)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Toymetheus unbound


TOY STORY 4

It's a disappointment, of course.  It's a Toy Story that isn't a masterpiece.  It isn't even great.  But as far as Pixar in the Tens has gone, you know, it is probably above average—and that'll do.

2019
Directed by Josh Cooley
Written by many, so very many, but I'm happy leaving it at "screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Stephanie Folsom"

Spoiler alert: moderate

Monday, June 17, 2019

I never understood the frequency, uh-uh


UNDER THE SILVER LAKE

Almost compelling, almost good.  If only its strangeness weren't lifeless and off-putting, Under the Silver Lake might've been something.

2019
Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell

Spoiler alert: maybe very slightly more than moderate, but a movie that doesn't resolve itself like this one can hardly be spoiled at a particularly high level

Sunday, June 16, 2019

This boy's too young to be singing the blues


ROCKETMAN

It absolutely surpasses Egerton and John's last collaboration, but then, "being better than Kingsman: The Golden Circle" isn't much of an accomplishment.  So, happily, let's say that Rocketman is still good—even if, unlike the subject of its story, it whiffs it hard on the actual greatness.

2019
Directed by Dexter Fletcher
Written by Lee Hall 

Spoiler alert: he's still standing

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

In other Godzilla news, this weird crap


GODZILLA: CITY ON THE EDGE OF BATTLE and
GODZILLA: THE PLANET EATER

Possibly the wrongest Godzilla has ever been, at the very least Gen Urobuchi's trilogy has proven itself admirably crazy—and outright insanity in pursuit of heavy-handed allegory is no vice. I think that's how the saying goes, right?

2018 and 2019, respectively
Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by Gen Urobuchi

Spoiler alert: moderate

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Nerrrrrrrrrrds


BOOKSMART

An extraordinary two-hander (that occasionally fails to be an ensemble), Booksmart is the kind of fun, likeable comedy they ought to make more of, at least if they want me to bother going to theaters to see a comedy in the first place.

2019
Directed by Olivia Wilde
Written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman

Spoiler alert: mild

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Let them fight?


GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

Absurdly good monsters keep getting interfered with by mostly-mediocre humans, but damned if "absurdly good monsters" ain't good enough.

2019
Directed by Michael Dougherty
Written by Zach Shields and Michael Dougherty

Spoiler alert: not that this movie can in any way be meaningfully spoiled, but "moderate," for the sticklers

Monday, May 27, 2019

Under the Table and dreaming


JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3—PARABELLUM

Show of hands, who loves the John Wick movies for their conversations?  Oh, really?  Way more than I would've thought.

2019
Directed by Chad Stahleski
Written by Derek Holstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Mark Abrams

Spoiler alert: mild

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Predator Week, part IV: The day the Earth stood up, walked out of the theater, and asked for its money back



THE PREDATOR

So now I can see why I might have dragged my feet on finishing this particular retrospective—it must have been a premonition of utter shit.  Not only the worst film in its series, The Predator is quite probably the worst film of its whole year, and damned if I didn't expect much, much better from this franchise and from these creators than that.

2018
Directed by Shane Black
Written by Fred Dekker and Shane Black

Spoiler alert: high

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Avengers forever


AVENGERS: ENDGAME

The best of the MCU's crossovers without even thinking about it too hard, Avengers: Endgame is even better than that fairly-faint praise implies, and it earns its place in cinema history (and our hearts) for at last giving some its various childlike empresses their names, and bringing some of their neverending stories to a highly satisfying close.

2019
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Spoiler alert: severe

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Monday, April 22, 2019

The big red cheese


SHAZAM!

Better than most movies about kids meeting wizards, and one reasonably terrific addition to the DCEU's growing stable of very good superhero movies.

2019
Directed by David Sandberg
Written by Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke

Spoiler alert: moderate

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

We have met the enemy, and he is...


US

While both atmospheric and willing to go for broke, neither craft nor courage quite manage to win the day against the plodding unscariness and poorly-used metaphors of Us.  (Also, I apologize for the hiatus.  I was busy.)

2019
Written and directed by Jordan Peele

Spoiler alert: moderate

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Reviews from gulag: Yes, it's early in the year to be falling behind

It turns out influenza is real, and not merely a historical anecdote, and can be profitably compared to a hangover that lasts a week and a half.  If I feel better now, I think the lion's share of the credit goes to the 4K release of Aquaman.  However, before I got sick, I watched not one but two piece of shit new-release movies, and I might as well log the stupid things while they still maintain their tenuous grip on my memory.  So!  Here's some short(ish) reviews of 2019's Greta and The Wandering Earth.

GRETA (Neil Jordan)
Greta is probably not the least fun version of itself it could possibly be, yet, ironically, it's hard to imagine it going any worse than it did without it becoming more enjoyable in the process, either by being actually enjoyable-on-purpose, which is self-explanatory, or by going completely batshit crazy, and therefore becoming enjoyable-on-accident.  Instead, it aims directly for mediocrity and gets stuck beneath it: it is the very ideal of slick, bland, indifferent semi-competence, as applied to a pair of genres that by their nature were never going to reward any of those things.  Greta, of course, stands astride two equally disreputable forms: in plot, it's a 90s-style stalker thriller that gradually (and very inelegantly) shades into the plot of a 90s-style serial killer thriller; yet it's a 90s-style thriller that's been pitched in the register of full-on post-Golden Age hagsploitation, taking on a famous and good actress of advancing years and giving her a howling psychopath to play with.  And, look, I know I'm making it sound good.  But that's the baffling pity of Greta: it really ought to be at least kind of great, and it should have been really easy.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Strong female character


CAPTAIN MARVEL

Individually powerful (and, I suppose, empowering) moments abound in Captain Marvel's matrix of not-quite-thereness, and the successes and failures alike will stick with you.

2019
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Written by Nicole Perlman, Meg LeFauve, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Anna Boden, and Ryan Fleck

Spoiler alert: high

Friday, March 8, 2019

Reviews from gulag: My family's slave

ROMA (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018)

I am not happy that Green Book won Best Picture at the 91st Academy Awards.  I can't be unhappy about it, at least not honestly—I'm pretty sure I would be unhappy, but I have not seen Green Book, and have no particular desire to, outside of the possibility that watching Aragorn getting fat and eating fried chicken for two straight hours might be amusing.  Even so, I can't imagine it was anywhere close to 2018's best picture.

Nevertheless, Green Book winning does have one nice silver lining: it means Alfonso Cuarón's Netflix-distributed Roma did not.  I did watch Roma; I can hate it.  I don't hate it for the reasons Steven Spielberg apparently hates it—helping push Green Book to its Oscar win and presently trying his level best to have Netflix banned from Academy Award consideration—for the great filmmaker has never been more petty and out-of-touch in his motivations, nor, I'm sad to say, more on the wrong side of history, even if "Netflix" and "movie" in the same sentence don't conjure the most pleasant cinematic expectations, and even if there are many valid reasons to be suspicious of Netflix that don't involve giving a shit about movie theaters.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Reviews from gulag: Literally!

As usual, we're still cleaning up the previous year long after the mess has ceased to matter, but nevertheless, here's two reviews, for The Death of Stalin and First Man.

THE DEATH OF STALIN (Armando Ianucci, 2017 kinda, but we're counting it as 2018)
In 1953, Iosif Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) dies, and his inner circle jockeys for control of the Soviet Union.  Two factions coalesce between Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) on one side and Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) on the other.

The Death of Stalin is a terrifically ahistoric mish-mash that takes on the power struggle that defined Soviet governance over the months and years following its titular dictator's demise.  It condenses that power struggle into a little less than one week's time—for cinema's sake—while getting tons and tons of things wrong, big and small alike.  Somehow, it's the small things, like an overflight of several just-slightly-anachronistic jet bombers (probably Tu-16s) that are the most annoying.  But the big things are pretty big, like a fictional massacre of Stalin's mourners by a security service that did not, in 1953, exist; or the implication that Stalin trusted Lavrentiy Beria any further than he could throw him, which he would've been likely to do (into a grave, that is), if Stalin had lived much longer than he had; hell, there're credible allegations (not in the film) that Beria got him first.  But it gets at least one big thing right, and that's take Armando Ianucci's usual, cynical, somewhat tedious all-politicians-are-venal-or-morons-or-both approach to political satire (e.g., Veep), and applies it to a situation where total venality was, effectively, a necessary condition of literal survival.  So that must be the other big thing it gets right: it makes for an effective black comedy that generates its uneasy laughs out of the nihilistic insanity of the very regime it inaccurately, but not quite untruthfully, depicts.

Friday, February 22, 2019

How to breed your dragon


HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD

The Hidden World is a three-way race between deeply-unpleasant comedy, a mechanically-questionable screenplay, and the sheer majestic potential of animated cinema at the bleeding edge of 2019; it turns out that overwhelming visual perfection can outrun an awful lot of horrible sins.  By the way, can someone get a cinematography Oscar for a cartoon?

2019
Written and directed by Dean DeBlois

Spoiler alert: moderate

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Yo' mama so old I told her to act her age, so she died


MAQUIA: WHEN THE PROMISED FLOWER BLOOMS
Sayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana o Kazarō

Conceptually rich, yet insubstantial and entirely unsatisfying, Maquia takes a great idea and runs it into the ground, then under the ground, then it ends, too short to make any sense out of the world it's created, too long and too repetitive to not get really, painfully dull.

2018
Written and directed by Mari Okada

Spoiler alert: moderate

Sunday, February 17, 2019

A mother is a woman who can take the place of anyone, but whose place no one else can take


BRAID

Like a game of Operation where someone keeps touching the sides on purpose.

2018
Written and directed by Mitzi Peirone

Spoiler alert: pretty much N/A, but let's say "moderate"

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Go ninja go ninja go


THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE

When one calls it "the worst LEGO movie," one's not bound to follow that assertion up with "but it's still pretty great!", or anything like that.  In fact, it fails often and severely enough to be called an actual disappointment; but The LEGO Ninjago Movie isn't actually bad, either, and on the rarest occasion manages some of the coolest stuff the franchise has ever done.

2017
Directed by Paul Fisher, Charlie Bean, and Bob Logan
Written by at least nine whole human beings, wow

Spoiler alert: mild

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Leggo my LEGO


THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART

Much better than its lukewarm commercial reception lets on, The LEGO Movie 2 may not surpass its progenitor, but it's probably the worthiest sequel it was ever going to get.

2019
Directed by Mike Mitchell
Written by Matthew Fogel, Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller

Spoiler alert: moderate

Monday, February 11, 2019

Dirty Harriet


DESTROYER

What we have is a movie essentially broken at its very core, depending on what you think its core is: its story (the broken part), or its lead performance (the pretty good part), but either way not exactly demanding that you spend your time on it.

2018
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

Spoiler alert: moderate

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Walt Disney, part VIII: The bomber sometimes gets through


VICTORY THROUGH AIR POWER

A cartoon about strategic bombing?  Walt, did you make this for me?

1943
Directed by James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, H.C. Potter, and Perce Pearce
Based on the book by Maj. Alexander P. de Seversky

Spoiler alert: the USAF exists

Sunday, February 3, 2019

This part won't be like a comic book


UNBREAKABLE

One of the best superhero movies is one of the smallest; less surprisingly, one of the best M. Night Shyamalan movies is one of the earliest.

2000
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Spoiler alert: severe

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The first superman couldn't fly


GLASS

M. Night Shyamalan's least bad movie in years.

2019
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Spoiler alert: highish, I guess, but nothing you'd be unlikely to figure out yourself

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Things shaped like bananas


EIGHTH GRADE

Either 2018's funniest comedy, one of its most heart-rending coming-of-age stories, or both.

2018
Written and directed by Bo Burnham

Spoiler alert: moderate

Monday, January 21, 2019

Walt Disney, part VII: Won't you be our neighbor?


SALUDOS AMIGOS

A reasonably pleasant diversion for a film made at the behest of the U.S. State Department, Saludos Amigos has some pretty low lows, but its usual tack is genial, colorful, and funny, and if you showed it in a classroom today it's at least possible you might not get mobbed on Twitter, which for a Disney film made in 1942 about people other than Europeans is, frankly, a sterling achievement.

1942 (Brazil)/1943 (USA)
Directed by Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, and Norm Ferguson

Spoiler alert: mild