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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Predator Week, part III: Space what now?


PREDATORS

Predators presents one big new idea for the franchise, with a lot of littler new ideas that dovetail into it, and most of those ideas range from good to honestly great... and yet, what we get with this film is not really too much better than what we got in 1990, or in 2004 (and if it's better than what we got in 2007, dude, so are several varieties of cancer).

2010
Directed by Nimrod Antal
Written by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch

Spoiler alert: moderate verging on high

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Robert Zemeckis, part XXI: I like wearing women's shoes, somehow it connects me to the essence of dames


WELCOME TO MARWEN

Robert Zemeckis' most interesting effort in eighteen years is also his easiest to dislike and misunderstand, which is why the director's first grab toward real greatness in just as long has become branded his worst film, and has, accordingly, failed miserably.  Thing is, I'd usually blame you, but in this instance, I don't think there's anyone else to blame but Bob himself.

2018
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Caroline Thompson and Robert Zemeckis

Spoiler alert: mild

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

And then there were nun


THE NUN

Finally, the Marilyn Manson biopic the world's been waiting for.

2018
Directed by Corin Hardy
Written by Gary Dauberman

Spoiler alert: mild

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Naughty and nice


POOKA!

Shabby in a lot of ways, Pooka! is still leaps and bounds better than the phrase "made-for-streaming Christmas horror film" makes it sound.

2018
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Written by Gerald T. Olson

Spoiler alert: moderate

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Four rooms


BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE

Not as bad as some folks say, but not nearly as good as it it ought to have been, Bad Times does enough right (despite doing what seems like even more wrong) that I'm willing to call it "good."  It's got atmosphere, and that'll do.

2018
Written and directed by Drew Goddard

Spoiler alert: mild