This is a live list of all the movies I’ve watched since beginning this list in 2022. A lot of older movies won’t make the list until I rewatch them. Explanations are included in the “Updates” section below the rankings. If you don’t see something on here, give it time. Use the comments to ask about anything or make a request or suggestion.
I favor scope, scale, and depth. If something is higher than you’d expect, it’s probably because it did one of those things very well. If something is lower than you’d expect, it’s probably because it frustrated me.
Rankings | last updated: 9/16/23
- Blade Runner (1982)
- American Psycho (2000)
- Casino Royale (2006)
- Chungking Express (1994)
- Black Swan (2010)
- Prisoners (2013)
- Parasite (2019)
- Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022)
- All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
- Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)
- Triangle of Sadness (2022)
- Beau is Afraid (2023)
- Past Lives (2023)
- The Wailing (2016)
- Cloverfield (2008)
- Barbie (2023)
- Bottoms (2023)
- X (2022)
- Barbarian (2022)
- RRR (2022)
- Fire of Love (2022)
- Under the Skin (2013)
- The Batman (2022)
- Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
- Hereditary (2018)
- Scream 2 (1997)
- Scream (1996)
- Die Hard (1988)
- Mad God (2022)
- Get Out (2017)
- Enemy (2013)
- TÁR (2022)
- Knives Out (2019)
- Drive (2011)
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023)
- Aftersun (2022)
- Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)
- Scream 6 (2023)
- The Lighthouse (2019)
- Midsommar (2019)
- Bones and All (2022)
- Babylon (2022)
- Elvis (2022)
- The Black Phone (2022)
- Cosmopolis (2011)
- Top Gun Maverick (2022)
- Crimes of the Future (2022)
- Beast (2022)
- Jawan (2023)
- John Wick (2014)
- The Northman (2022)
- Nope (2022)
- Your Name (2016)
- Blow Out (1981)
- Falling Down (1993)
- Bullet Train (2022)
- Fast X (2023)
- Joy Ride (2023)
- Mission: Impossible (1996)
- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
- The Adam Project (2022)
- Turning Red (2022)
- Polite Society (2023)
- Creed III (2023)
- BlackBerry (2023)
- The Fast and the Furious (2001)
- The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)
- Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
- Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)
- Oppenheimer (2023)
- You Hurt My Feelings (2023)
- Girl, Interrupted (1999)
- Insomnia (2002)
- The Whale (2022)
- The Menu (2022)
- Violent Night (2022)
- Prey (2022)
- Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. (2022)
- Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero (2022)
- Us (2019)
- Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
- Vengeance (2022)
- West Side Story (2021)
- No Time to Die (2021)
- About Time (2013)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
- No Hard Feelings (2023)
- Cocaine Bear (2023)
- Knock at the Cabin (2023)
- The Lost City (2022)
- Hustle (2022)
- Decision to Leave (2022)
- Fresh (2022)
- 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
- Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
- Air (2023)
- Fast Five (2011)
- Vanilla Sky (2001)
- Talk To Me (2023)
- The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
- John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
- John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
- Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)
- Death on the Nile (2022)
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
- Tenet (2020)
- Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022)
- The Bob’s Burgers Movie (2022)
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
- Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)
- Blue Beetle (2023)
- White Noise (2022)
- Troll (2022)
- Pearl (2022)
- Breaking (2022)
- Terrifier 2 (2022)
- Infinity Pool (2023)
- Scream (2022)
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)
- Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
- Interstellar (2014)
- La La Land (2016)
- Scream 3 (2000)
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
- Uncharted (2022)
- Scream 4 (2011)
- Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
- Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
- Mission: Impossible III (2004)
- Hypnotic (2023)
- Smile (2022)
- M3GAN (2023)
- The Pale Blue Eye (2023)
- Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)
- Fast & Furious (2009)
- The Fate of the Furious (2017)
- Furious 7 (2013)
- You People (2023)
- Do Revenge (2022)
- Minions: Rise of Gru (2022)
Not For Me
- Fourth of July (2022)
- Morbius (2022)
- Black Adam (2022)
- Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)
- Jurassic World Dominion (2022)
- The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023)
- 65 (2023)
- Don’t Worry Darling (2022)
- Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (2023)
- The Flash (2023)
Really Not For Me
- Asteroid City (2023)
- Goodnight Mommy (2022)
- Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)
- Inland Empire (2006)
- F9 (2021)
- White Men Can’t Jump (2023)
- Halloween Ends (2022)
- The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022)
What an epic movie. I had no idea what I was in for. From the few photos and GIFs I had seen on social media, I expected Jawan to be a dark, brooding film. And the first 10 minutes fits that. Then it goes off to explore completely different tones. Action, comedy, romance, political commentary, superhero, inspirational, tragedy, dance—it has a little bit of everything. I get why that might not appeal to everyone but I thought it was so entertaining. Especially when I look at some of the 2023 blockbusters that left me wanting: Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Oppenheimer. I’d watch Jawan over those 9 out of 10 times.
Shah Ruhk Khan puts on a double-performance that really impressed me due to the insane range. He has to be campy but also heroic but also heartfelt but also sinister but also his own father and his own son. Amazing. Vijay Sethupathi brought tremendous villain energy and often stole the scene. While Deepika Padukone kind of stole the movie. Her small section was so powerful.
I feel like Atlee is a better version of Michael Bay.
What a crushing movie. Yet beautiful. I lost my dad when I was 20. It was under different circumstances but it resonated all the same. I liked the choice to have the club represent this internal struggle Sophie’s going through in trying to understand Calum. It captures that sense of confusion and distance but also Calum probably spent a lot of time in dance clubs. So it embodies so much of her trying to understand the parts of him she never had access to. I also love how the title seems to be a stand in for the idea of grief. We hear Sophie say that she feels connected to her father because they’re both looking at the same sun. When he dies, he’s beyond the sun. Afterlife/aftersun. So it’s how Sophie’s coping with this, dealing with it, coming to terms.
Reminds me a lot of this movie by Catherine Breillat called Fat Girl. Amazing coming of age story that has some dark twists and is very meditative and smart but quiet.
Charlotte Wells seems like she has the potential to be a powerhouse. Such a unique style. She and cinematographer Gregory Oke gave us so many different looks. Extreme close ups. Long shots. Interesting character moments but also great environmental frames that steep us in the location. The story is something everyone can, in some ways, relate to, but is also very artsy. So you get this great blend of approachable yet deep.
Blade Runner is simply one of the best movies ever made. I’ve seen it over 10 times. I have a painting of the unicorn that hangs in my office. Honestly, I think it’s so good that it’s ruined a lot of other movies for me because I just wish everything could be as interesting and beautiful and thought provoking as Blade Runner. And 99% of movies don’t even come close.
It’s actually been a few years since my last rewatch and the longest I’ve gone without seeing it. I recently got a 4K TV, too. So the combination of the time away with the better image quality made this viewing kind of sublime. I was legitimately kind of jaw-dropped the whole time. Every scene is so good. Every shot is so good. Truly a masterpiece.
My favorite scene is when the score adds a howl to it to mimic Roy’s howls as he chases Deckard. It’s such a cool thing to me that I feel like I’ve only ever seen done in Blade Runner.
Deckard is 100% a replicant.
Wow. We finally have a true heir to Superbad. While there have been some fun high school comedies over the years, I don’t think any have been truly great. Until Bottoms. It’s just the best. Familiar but unpredictable. Outrageous yet relatable. Above all, it’s daring. I think that’s the secret ingredient missing from a lot of Hollywood movies these days. Especially comedies. They’re so sterile and safe. While Bottoms doesn’t give a f*** about playing it safe. You have endearing, amazing, star-making performances from Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott. And writer/director Emma Seligman announces herself as a force to be reckoned with. Everyone needs to see this movie.
When I saw it in theaters, I didn’t like Interstellar. Re-watching it 9 years later, I still didn’t like Interstellar. Yet everyone else loves it. Sigh. To me, it just absolutely pales in comparison to 2001: a Space Odyssey. I don’t think there’s a single shot in Interstellar that’s more impressive to me than any random shot in 2001. And the visuals are supposed to be the big selling point. Except the camera never lingers on anything long enough for us to really be in awe. There’s that really cool shot of Gargantua but it lasts less than five seconds. I had the same issue with Oppenheimer. You get a quick glimpse of what is a cool image. Then it’s gone. Nolan never steeps in a moment. Again, compare this to 2001 where Kubrick wasn’t afraid to rest the camera and bask in the brilliance of a moment.
Then, story-wise, Interstellar is okay. But the end is pretty dumb to me. “Coop’s the ghost!” is the most cliche and obvious direction to take the story. And “the aliens helping us are just future humans who have transcended dimensions” is also pretty lame since it’s not anything that’s elaborated upon. It becomes a deus ex machina rather than an actual story development. Yes, it’s emotional when Coop and Murph reunite. But it’s also pretty silly how the movie tosses aside the son. They don’t have to redeem Tom. But by not having Coop learn about or react to his son’s fate, it compromises all the previously established character development where he cares about his kids. Not just Murph.
It’s typical Nolan in that the grandiosity of the concept and his excessive use of pseudo-montages distracts people from all the little compromises and shortcuts he takes.
But McConaughey does a great job and the sequence with Matt Damon is great.
Blue Beetle has a lot of heart. The cast makes the movie. And it’s nice to see Xolo get his shot as a leading man after years of carrying Cobra Kai. The only issue is Blue Beetle being mostly a by-the-numbers origin story. The cinematography and choreography leave a lot to be desired. And it takes a lot of logistical shortcuts that we’re supposed to overlook. I think the thing I like most about the movie is the opportunities it gave to people in front of and behind the camera and the impact it will have on audiences. That’s kind of more important than the overall quality of the movie. So I’m happy with it even if it left me somewhat frustrated.
I can understand people like the atmosphere and vibe of Last Voyage of the Demeter but I don’t trust anyone who says it’s good. They may like it. But it’s not good. Mostly because the writing is so bad. The last act is so full of bad decision-making that it ruined the end of the movie for me. With that said!! I am still interested in a sequel. I liked the characters and look enough for that. I just hope the script is much much much better.
TMNT: Mutant Mayhem is pretty awesome. It had that same thrilling energy to me that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse had the first time I saw it. It has that special quality of something that feels like it’s already a classic.
Vanilla Sky is a weird movie. At times it feels like it has the same tongue-in-cheek tone as something like Scary Movie. Except it’s actually kind of serious. Except it’s also kind of stupid. But also kind of thought provoking? For everything I think it does well, there’s something else that strikes me as completely laughable or bad. Tom Cruise goes for it but his performance has a lot of low points for me. And the dialogue. Yikes. I think Jason Lee was not right for the movie. I don’t know. There’s just way too much that isn’t working for me. With that said, on the broader level, there are a lot of interesting things. It was ahead of its time in terms of exploring the relationship people will have with technology and escapism through technology. It’s a pretty unique coming-of-age story for someone who was late to mature. There’s a whimsy and strangeness that makes Vanilla Sky pretty unique and appealing. It’s just absolutely not my kind of movie.
I’m going to be in the minority who doesn’t think Talk to Me is amazing. I’m glad other people liked it a lot. It definitely has a cool concept and great cast and I appreciated all the Australian hip hop. My issue was that I felt like I just saw this movie. And I kind of did. It was called Smile. Obviously, there are big differences between the two. But a lot of the beats are similar. And a huge pet peeve for me with horror is starting the movie with some kind of death that shows exactly what could or will happen to the main character then just slowly building to that point. It removes a lot of the tension. And then the whole kangaroo in the road coming full circle is right out of Get Out. And the whole “dealing with the loss of your mom but the monster is imitating your mom and the monster wins” is Smile.
I get that this will be annoying to genre people, as genre relies on the use of tropes and that’s some of the fun. I can be on board with that. But I need the tropes to be innovative or the rest of the story to be saying and doing more than what Talk to Me says and does.
With that said, Danny and Michael Philippou seem incredibly talented and like they have a strong vision. Talk to Me is a great calling card for them and I’m excited to see what they do next. Sophie Wilde, Zoe Terakes, and Chris Alosio were the standouts for me.
Girl, Interrupted is almost great. It’s such a who’s who of late-90s/early-00s female actors. Every role was played by someone I recognized and appreciated. That was pretty cool. The cast is so so so so talented that I really did enjoy watching them do whatever. Perhaps the most striking thing was remembering how…carefree…Angelina Jolie could be. It made me realize how over the last 20 years I’ve just thought of her as so regal and stoic and controlled that seeing her be out of control and reactive was pretty refreshing. It also reminded me how good Whoopi Goldberg was. Like with Angelina, for the last 20 years, I think of Whoopi from The View and all the controversial takes rather than the actor who I loved so much growing up.
I’d rank it higher if it hadn’t used the time thing at the beginning merely as an exposition tool. It had elements of Slaughterhouse 5 and The Sound and the Fury that were pretty cool. Then completely abandoned it. You could make the case it was a byproduct of her poor mental health so getting to Claymoore coincided with that ending. But. Eh. It’s not like she was mentally healthy at Claymoore right away. The time skips were cool and unique. Once we settled into just everything being at the psychiatric hospital, the momentum really drops. Especially since the movie settles into being so derivative of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
I did like it more than Cuckoo’s Nest, mostly because Cuckoo’s Nest is slavishly derivative of Cool Hand Luke while Girl, Interrupted at least deviates from Cuckoo’s Nest. The performances combined with that slight degree of originality and the likability of the cast earn it the victory. And there was a lot of power in the basement scene when Angelina chases Winona. It had sudden horror movie elements that had been building up since the beginning. That was cool.
I do think it ends a little weakly. Perhaps my number one pet peeve is the story that ends with the character leaving somewhere for somewhere else. I don’t want to say it can never work because Jurassic Park exists. But, especially in coming of age movies, it’s such an easy way out because it feels like a powerful place to end. Typically, though, the true ending of the story is what happens next. Which is why the movie Lady Bird will forever have my respect. Gerwig gets that you just need a little more where you show how the person is adapting. Even Wizard of Oz. It’s not like it ends with Dorothy going home. You have the brief scene where she reacts to being home. And it’s one of the most famous scenes in movie history.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3
Eh. Mission: Impossible 3 is slick but I kind of hate how slick it is. Which is such a J.J. Abrams thing. And this will be a weird complaint, but I thought there was too much going on. It’s insane sequence to insane sequence to insane sequence with barely any time to develop any characters, any dynamics, and any emotional texture. This feels made by people who were at the top of their film school class and looking to make a name for themselves rather than people who had a story they needed to tell. Orci and Kurtzman are my least favorite screenwriters. Ever. I’m sure they’re lovely people. I just don’t enjoy how they tell stories. And that goes for Abrams, as well. He’s technically gifted and clearly understands audience reaction. But has Abrams ever told a good story? Super 8‘s the closest I think he’s gotten and even that had a lot of things I disliked/disagreed with.
The most laughable thing in M:I 3 is how they try to make us care about Ethan’s mentoring relationship with Lindsey (Kerri Russel) when the entire relationship is based on 30 seconds of flashback. Cool. Great job. There’s very little sense of rhythm to this movie. It’s just start quiet then consistently get louder and louder and louder and stay at full volume for the entire last 45 minutes. I get why that did and does appeal to people. Just not what I’m looking for. I far prefer the first Mission: Impossible. Even Mission: Impossible 2, which I think is pretty stupid, had a better feel for pacing.
With all that said, I did think the first 20 minutes were pretty good. You can see all the mastery of Screenwriting 101 in the opening sequence. That kind of in media res is such a cliche and generic thing to do but, all the same, it’s effective. Yet the whole time I can just picture Orci, Kurtzman, and Abrams patting each other on the back and saying things like “Hollywood isn’t ready for us!” Then I did enjoy the humor of a domesticated Ethan Hunt being at a house party and trying to act normal but not totally blending in. That was good.
And, of course, Philip Seymour Hoffman is amazing. I miss him.
I don’t think Barbie was perfect. It had some flaws. It had some cliches. It had some parts that I like the concept of more than the execution. But I’d argue it’s closer to an artistic masterpiece than Oppenheimer. It reaches back through the cinematic canon while also moving it forward in a way that’s refreshing, dynamic, and heartfelt. I was invested. I cried a ton. I laughed a ton. As someone who has had an existential crisis—Barbie hit home. That it could comment so directly on society while still exploring deeper psychological issues around the overall human condition was astonishing. Honestly, the opening 2 minutes of Barbie was more impressive to me than the entirety of Oppenheimer.
I’m fully convinced that Margot Robbie should go down as one of the best actors of the century. Her range and charisma is incredible. Seriously, watch Babylon, then watch Barbie. Then just be in awe of her.
And Gosling did have to elevate his game in a strange way. He’s always been a strong actor but also a bit distant? He always has that guardedness about him. It’s one of the things that makes him so fascinating, because you’re always wondering what else is going on under the surface. This was such a different role for him and it seemed he had to really open up in ways I’ve never seen him do before. The whole cool-guy facade has to come tumbling down. It’s fascinating.
Greta Gerwig has my full and undivided attention for everything she does in the future. Barbie has everything a movie needs to become a classic.
I have felt pretty much every Christopher Nolan movie since Inception has been overrated. Oppenheimer is no different. Which is such a shame. I went into it with high hopes. Then saw all the early reviews and thought maybe, finally, I’d once again connect with a Nolan movie. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Obviously the performances are great. Murphy and Downey Jr. crush it. But for a majority of the 3 hour runtime I was simply bored. Aside from Oppenheimer, I thought every character was undeveloped. And that most of the subplots were underdeveloped. For example, Oppenheimer has multiple points in the 2nd hour where he asks for his brother but the US government won’t let that happen. Why did Oppenheimer need his brother at Los Alamos? What did that mean to him? What would it help? What’s the issue with his brother not being there? Is it an emotional thing or a practical thing? Later, once Oppy is done with the Manhattan Project, it’s not like we get some reunion between the two of them. So what was the point of him asking for his brother?
That’s always been my problem with Nolan. I think he is the best magician in cinema. He gets audiences to think what’s happening is big and impressive, but it’s all a distraction from the fact that most of the details are unfinished. It’s like a real estate agent walking you through a house and they tell you to look at the crown moulding on the ceiling so you don’t see the holes in the floor. Like for most of the movie, Kitty Oppenheimer does mostly nothing. She flirts, becomes an alcoholic, then just hangs out. Then, suddenly, near the end, we have this rousing scene where she outwits a government prosecutor and shows off her intelligence, wit, and pride. It’s cool. But where does that come from? And what does it really accomplish? It’s just a moment to give the character a moment but it’s not necessarily part of the character’s development, arc, story, anything. It just is because it gives the audience something to ooo and ahhh at.
I think a lot of my issue too is that so much of Oppenheimer reminded me of movies I liked more. Like the cool visuals of physics that flash through J. Robert’s mind. Tree of Life did something similar 13 years ago and it looked better. Much of Cillian Murphy’s performance and Los Alamos reminded me of There Will Be Blood. Which, don’t get me wrong, is high praise because no movie has ever reminded me of There Will Be Blood. But, still. I’d rather watch There Will Be Blood. And then when it comes to bombs and worrying about bombs—Dr. Strangelove got to the worry and absurdity of the whole thing in a way that’s far more up my alley than Nolan’s version.
I want to say it’s not a bad movie. But that last hour was pretty awful. I get that we’re exploring the fallout from the bombs and the way in which the country built Oppenheimer up only to then throw him away. It’s an important critique about our government and the way it uses people and the guilt that Oppenheimer felt and how he tried to make amends in the aftermath. But it was legitimately one of the most boring hours of cinema that I’ve ever watched. There were some moments that were visually interesting. But not a lot. And just having most of it be this assassination of Oppenheimer’s character as a weird double-edged concept of calling him out while also making him sympathetic just did not work for me. At all. Don’t get me started on the Lewis Strauss stuff. That was such a mess and such a strange way to attempt to redeem Oppenheimer and make the audience feel like the “good guy” got a moral victory over the “bad guy”.
In some ways, this is the most mature artistic expression of Nolan’s career. It’s the culmination of a lot of his techniques and tactics. I think I agree that it is his masterpiece. But I think it’s far from an actual masterpiece. I’m going to be annoyed when it comes to award season and its nominated for everything then wins everything.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE
I like to think Dead Reckoning is a meta commentary on the current state of Hollywood and the increasing battle with not only AI but the social media zeitgeist. As I write this, we’re in the midst of the 2023 writers’ strike and have an impending SAG-AFTRA strike. One of the major points of contention is over AI and the use of it not only on the script level but in terms of visuals. One important example has been Disney’s use of combining CGI and AI to recreate legacy characters, like Luke Skywalker, without the need of the original actor. Obviously, the pre-production, production, and most of the post-production for Dead Reckoning happened before 2023. But everyone in Hollywood had this year circled on their calendars for a reason. This negotiation and the specific fears around AI have been on the horizon for years.
Theories of the movie aside, did I like it? Eh. It wasn’t bad, per se. I just never thought it was all that good. The best thing to me was how much time it took with its set pieces. It really soaked in those environments and made sure there were micro-narratives and escalation. Each set piece was really its own little mini-film. Which was kind of cool. That was always one of the strengths of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and I don’t think it’s something many other movies have understood, much less done well. The airport, Rome, Venice, and the train are all very impressive in just how much happens.
But, like with Mission: Impossible 2, it is kind of absurd how quickly Ethan develops an intense connection with Grace. And given how much and how fast they elevate Grace, it would have been nice to get a bit more context around her. Other than being wanted in a lot of places. Same with Gabriel. He’s this cornerstone person in Ethan’s life. Kind of the Joker to Ethan’s Batman. Dead Reckoning touches on some of those elements but they’re so brief and superficial and I don’t think it conveys the dynamic between them in a strong enough way. Their eventual showdown should have been this incredibly potent moment. Instead, it was landed pretty flat for me. Especially with how much it just repeated the showdown between Jim Phelps and Ethan from the original Mission: Impossible movie. That fight also occurred on top of a train. Going back to a train can be a nice callback but I don’t think it worked very well.
I’d say the best things in Dead Reckoning were Pom Klementieff and The Entity. Pom had such an energy about her. I’m so used to her in Marvel movies that it was nice to see something different. And The Entity being this supped up HAL 9000 is cool. Though, the more I’m starting to think about how bad its plan is the more the whole thing is starting to bother me. They bill it as this supremely powerful thing that has access to essentially anything that’s on the internet. Is having Gabriel get the key really the best way of going about it? That feels like something a person would think of rather than the thing a machine would do.
Oh and perhaps the stupidest thing the franchise has ever done. And maybe the worst moment in 2023 for me. There’s a scene where bad guys have Grace dead to rights. It seems like there’s no hope for her. But at that moment, Ethan comes crashing through the side of the train and takes out both bad guys. Keep in mind, he had parachuted from a mountain. He had no visual of Grace. No concept of what was going on. This wasn’t something he could possibly have planned or timed. He just happened to crash through the one car in a gigantic train that had Grace and save her right before something awful happened. That’s the kind of thing you expect from a Saturday morning cartoon. Not a movie with a budget of $291 million that’s trying to present itself as smart, cool, and “cinema”.
Honestly, too much of the movie is Ethan running around. In the airport, he’s mostly walking around/running around. In Venice, he’s mostly running as Grace then Ilsa fight Gabriel. Then in the Alps, there’s a tremendous stretch where he’s driving on his bike looking for a way on the train. I get that they needed to create gaps where Ethan wasn’t there so other characters could do things. But “traveling around” is not the best way of going about that.
As ridiculous as Fast X is, I think it’s the clearly superior film here. And that’s not something I expected write.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2
I saw this in theaters. I was 13. Went with my friend Josh and his dad. I remember hating it. Specifically because they used the masks way too often. 23 years later, it’s not as bad as I remember. The mask thing is still a crutch but it wasn’t as outrageous as 13 year old me thought. Don’t get me wrong, though—I still don’t think it’s good. The grounded tone from the first movie? Gone. It’s now cheeky and fun and much more Bond in all the bad ways (to me). The immediate and intense romance with Thandie Newton as the emotional backbone of the story never felt earned. Tom Cruise’s haircut was outrageous and distracting. And the villain left a lot to be desired. Why would Sean Ambrose suddenly betray everyone? How skilled was he? How well did he and Ethan know one another? Their dynamic is only ever really developed through their competition for Niyah’s affection.
My biggest issue is the huge downgrade in narrative structure. In the first movie, you had this nicely crafted story that revolved around three cycles of pre-mission development, the mission, and post-mission consequences. In M:I2, the story simply meanders around. With long stretches of melodrama and faux-action replacing actual development. I say that thinking specifically about the entire stretch at the race track.
Now that I’m thinking about it. I do still hate the use of masks. It’s still not as bad as I remember it being. In my memory, there was a scene where someone wore a mask over a mask in order to trick everyone. They didn’t do that. But almost every major plot point involves a mask. It’s cheesy, sloppy, absurd. And probably that exact reason some people love this movie. Despite out how much it kind of outrages me, there’s so much goofy and stupid stuff happening that it’s perfect cult movie material. Like Ethan Hunt busts out the most absurd fighting moves. Every fight has some unnecessary flip or flying kick. Maybe that’s the John Woo influence? Where this becomes almost tongue-in-cheek and in on the joke? If you’re into that, I get why Mission: Impossible 2 might be something you cherish. Unfortunately, it strikes me less as fun and more as a series of bad decisions.
I had never watched the first Mission Impossible. But I’d caught plenty of clips over the years. Especially of the fish tank scene. Something which had, out of context, always seemed pretty badly done to me. That’s a byproduct of my love/hate relationship with Brian De Palma. Something like Blow Out? Brilliant. Carlito’s Way? Not for me. So I expected Mission: Impossible to fall into the latter category. Thankfully, I was wrong!
The thing that stood out most to me was how simple the plot structure was. To the film’s benefit. You have a trilogy of pre-mission, mission, post-mission. That’s it. That’s the movie. Three clear, complete, distinct arcs that build on one another. Each mission takes its time, has stakes, has micro-narratives. It’s effective. I’ve seen a lot of blockbuster-y action movies in the last year and the narrative structuring usually leaves a lot to be desired. As do the micro-narratives (or lack thereof).
I liked, too, how much more grounded Mission: Impossible felt compared to Bond films at this time. This felt like the smart alternative. The same way the Bourne Identity would,, a few years later, feel like the smart alternative to Bond and Hunt. Which eventually will bring us all the way back around to the Bond revamp with Daniel Craig becoming the perfect blend of Bond, Hunt, and Bourne. It was cool to see what’s essentially a decade long arc start here.
One thing I did discover is that there was a Mission: Impossible TV show from 1966 that ran for 7 seasons. Then a 2-season re-launch in 1988. Jim Phelps was the hero for nearly a decade. For the movie to turn Phelps into the villain is pretty disrespectful. It infuriated a lot of the former cast and fans. I can just hear the meeting where Tom Cruise and the studio decide that its in the best interest of ushering in the new franchise to have the face of the old one not only “disavowed” but morally fallen. It’s a choice you make when you want the new character to be the clear alpha/hero/fan favorite. In some ways, it’s a cowardly move. But, hey, it worked. Tom Cruise, Ethan Hunt, is the face of the franchise.
INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY
Sigh. Dial of Destiny isn’t so offensive that I want to write about all the ways in which I think it fails (like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania). It just never did anything that I found all that exciting. It’s trying very hard. James Mangold and Disney want us to feel like we’re getting vintage Indy. And, yeah, we kind of are? Especially with the CGI de-aging they do. It was strange though to be looking at 30-something Indiana Jones but hearing 70-something Harrison Ford’s voice. That didn’t quite work. And whatever money they spent to make Indy’s de-aging look pretty good, they did not spend the same amount for Mads Mikkelsen’s.
I had also just watched Raiders of the Lost Ark the night before. And the difference between the practical effects and the CGI really didn’t help Dial of Destiny. I had been so impressed with Spielberg and what it took to get the shots and scenes in Lost Ark. For Dial, it’s such a mash up of CGI and practical that I found myself not really buying into any of the action sequences that should impress me. I had a similar issue with Ready Player One. I know this isn’t something that will bother everyone, but it’s something that I’ve discovered is an increasing concern of mine.
And then there’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She has all the charisma and talent in the world. This isn’t going to take some weird anti-PWB turn. My issue wasn’t with her so much as it was the character of Helena Shaw. I couldn’t buy into her. She was so derivative of Indiana Jones that the whole thing felt incredibly forced. It’s like Mickey Mouse was sitting on my shoulder, whispering “You like her because she’s like Indy, right? You like Indy, so you like her, right? Wouldn’t it be great if this character WHO IS JUST LIKE INDY, sorry for yelling, took over the franchise and continued doing Indiana Jones things?” That’s not a Phoebe Waller-Bridge issue. It could have been John David Washington, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, etc. The problem would have been the same.
Disney has had such an issue with this lately, too. Most of the Phase 4 and Phase 5 MCU movies have been about passing the torch from established actors to newer ones. They tried doing the same thing with the Star Wars sequels. I’m just exhausted by their inability to just reboot and start fresh. Because they end up just re-telling the same exact story over and over again, across all this difference franchises. It’s boring.
So, my appreciation to the cast for doing the best they could with what they had. They made the movie at least watchable.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
It had been a long time since I last watched Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s one of those Spielberg movies that kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s watched a lot. E.T., Jaws, Raiders, Jurassic Park. All were on repeat for me. I even remember being 7 years old and going to Universal Studios and seeing the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! But, for some reason, as I got older, I didn’t return to Indiana movies all that much. Never, really. I skipped Crystal Skull altogether. So this was my first time watching any Indian Jones movie in over 20 years year.
Still holds up! I think the thing that impressed me most was just how inventive and creative the stunts felt and still feel to this day. Especially with how CGI everything has become. Personally, a lot of blockbusters don’t hit the same way because they’re so obviously CGI. It can work and be done well and still have that sense of scope and scale and beauty to it. But there’s just a different vibe when you know everything you’re watching was done practically. It brings back that awe-inspiring feeling of “How did they do that?” that I just don’t get from a lot of modern movies.
Despite how enjoyable it was, it has the same problem as a lot of iconic works—it’s been iterated on so many times that it comes off as kind of simple when compared to 40 years of what’s come after. Looking from Lost Ark to Die Hard to Terminator 2 to Gladiator to Pirates of the Caribbean to the modern Mission Impossible movies. Just a night and day difference. But you know what Lost Ark has that most other movies don’t? Prime Harrison Ford. Such a legend.
Despite feeling its age, Lost Ark still stands the test of time.
I had no idea Joy Ride would be so funny and charming and awesome. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Europtrip since Eurotrip. I love Eurotrip. Stephanie Hsu is an absolute star. The whole cast kills it, but Stephanie Hsu just has that extra it factor. If that wasn’t clear in Everything Everywhere then it’s abundantly obvious now. It’s funny seeing this so soon after No Hard Feelings and the media blitz that surrounded it as the return of the raunchy R-rate comedy. Joy Ride makes No Hard Feelings seem like a PG Disney movie. It’s edgy, outrageous, and transgressive in the ways you don’t really expect movies to be these days. Kudos to Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao for not holding back and the cast for giving it their all. What a success.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Joy Ride ends up as the best comedy of 2023.
Asteroid City bored me in a way no movie has in a long time. It had interesting shots, performances, and ideas, but I didn’t care even a little bit about anything that was happening. It all felt half-baked to me. Especially in comparison to the scope and drama of Grand Budapest Hotel. Or the emotions and dynamics of Isle of Dogs. Asteroid City did’t go anywhere. Didn’t do anything. It’s reflective but I didn’t care what it had to say in regard to acting, performance, the relationship between artists and art/viewer and art, or grief, government, life—anything. It was like a rough draft rather than the final project.
With that said, I did enjoy ScarJo and Jason Schwartzman. They both had a nice gravitas that made their scenes more three-dimensional. And the little girls who were adamant about being witches. They were fun. Everything else? Meh.
As bleak as I’m being, I didn’t like There Will Be Blood or Tár when I first saw those. Then kept thinking about then nonstop and eventually ended up loving them. I don’t think Asteroid City will earn such admiration but I could see at least ending up neutral on it.
It’s such a shame, too, because I love meta-narratives. This has all the ingredients for a film that I’m super into. But it just loafs around. I want to call it soulless? Or empty? Maybe that’s too harsh? I keep thinking about this Don DeLillo novel called Point Omega that’s about this filmmaker who goes out to the desert to visit this elderly scholar about filming the scholar for a documentary. The scholar’s daughter visits then goes missing in the desert. Nothing else happens. It’s just the filmmaker sinking into the void of the desert’s isolation and having these lofty existential thoughts and conversations the tie together disparate aspects of the human condition. A lot of people hated it. I love it. Point Omega also “just loafs around” except it’s constantly collapsing time and space and identity into a black hole that swallows up the entire text. So even though “nothing happens”, that in and of itself is an act of negation and annihilation. It’s awesome. Asteroid City doesn’t have that quality.
No Hard Feelings was pretty good. Saw it opening night, sold out theater, and people were laughing throughout. It definitely didn’t have me guffawing like Superbad, Wedding Crashers, or Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but I laughed. Which is really all that I could ask. The nice surprise was there being actual character development and some emotional complexity. Which makes sense. I don’t think Jennifer Lawrence would sign on to do a movie as superficial and hopeless as Change-Up or Hot Tub Time Machine. So there’s a bit more meat on the bone when it comes to the story.
It turns out the premise for this was based on a real Craigslist ad? Just looked it up. From 2013. It’s Harvard instead of Princeton but same general idea. Lawrence talked about this on her Hot Ones interview. Apparently her and the director, Gene Stupnitsky, are friends and had laughed about the ad and talked about how it would make for a funny movie premise. Gene later hit her up with a script and here we are. So they’re taking a pretty messed up true story and trying to turn it into something that attempts to be a little less distasteful. Which is a bold thing to do in 2023. If No Hard Feelings came out in the 80s, 90s, 00s, I think most people just shrug. But in 2023? I’ve seen whole tweet threads about the dangerous normalization that No Hard Feelings can have on young people and their notions of what’s okay and not okay.
There are definitely going to be people who defend it, saying that it’s more than what the trailer made it out to be. And there will absolutely be people who decry it, no matter what it intends, simply for the concept alone. It’s entertaining enough and thoughtful enough that I think most people who do watch it will be inclined to give No Hard Feelings the benefit of the doubt. But it will probably always have a certain amount of controversy attached to it.
The biggest surprise to me was the scene where Percy plays “Maneater” on the piano. I had no idea he could sing. Have since found out he’s in the High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and has put out albums. Beautiful voice. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the “Maneater” scene is definitely in my “Top 5 movie moments of 2023”. Did not expect that. But it legitimately captivated me.
HOBBS & SHAW
I remember seeing the trailers for Hobbs & Shaw and thinking absolutely not, no way. But now I’ve watched every single Fast movie so had to watch Hobbs & Shaw. Honestly? Not bad. I wasn’t really a fan of either character in the mainline stories. Hobbs always felt too much like a caricature that tonally clashed with everyone else. While Shaw went from villain to part of the team way too quickly for my tastes. But the movie gave Rock an opportunity to humanize Hobbs a bit more and fight for the spotlight a bit less. Toning him down just enough to get me invested in the character. Then Shaw having his sister as part of the story fleshed out his character too. So that was good. Vanessa Kirby did an awesome job as Hattie and kind of felt right at home in the story. Of course, Idris Elba pretty much stole the entire movie. Of all the characters that the Fast franchise has redeemed, I need Elba to be one of them. The Knuckles of the group. The Tommy Oliver. Though I guess Shaw’s already occupying that role? F*** it. Do it again.
The thing about Hobbs & Shaw is that at no point in time did it feel like a Fast and Furious movie. Well, that’s not true. When they use NOS and did the patented NOS-shot. That was as Fast and Furious as you can get. The rest of the movie, though? It felt more like a Mission Impossible spin-off to me. It also kind of throws the whole world out of whack. Eteon’s technology advancements and control of the media is kind of outrageous. The Fast movies were already getting more and more sci-fi-y in terms of technology, especially with the introduction of Mr. Nobody. Now we have a wealthy, militant techno-cult? Thinking about how grounded and real world the first two Fast movies were and how crazy the most recent have been. I feel like the world would be in such a weird place after all of these high profile disasters, events, and revelations.
I guess that’s kind of my biggest criticisms of the franchise. It’s a weird one. But I never get a sense of the world around the characters. There are major, major things happening. Bank vaults flying down streets. Predator missiles striking throughout downtown Los Angeles. Explosions in Rome. But we never see what this means to anyone or anything. Don’t get me wrong—most action franchises don’t do this. It’s not like Mission Impossible is great about this. Or that the Daniel Craig Bond movies cared about it for even a second. It should have been a major part of the Transformers franchise. I get why it’s something a lot of movies don’t explore. You only have so much time. So you have to focus it. But it is something I find myself craving a bit more from the Fast franchise and I’m not sure why?
I did find myself really enjoying the dynamic between Dwayne and Statham. The banter always felt kind of clever and kept me guessing. I always love Ryan Reynolds. I’m pretty torn on the last 30 minutes. On the one hand, I’m really happy Rock had the pull to include Samoa and give an opportunity to Samoan actors and get Hollywood to give back a bit through those paychecks and representation. That’s a huge win. On the other hand, the story felt like it could have concluded in Russia at the Eteon facility. You could have simply had an epilogue section where Rock decides to take his daughter to Samoa and reconnect with his family. But I guess if you’re going to Samoa you want to make it worth the money. So they add on this larger final sequence. At that point, though, I’m not sure what the additional action was accomplishing.
What I’m really trying to say with that is that the writing could have done a bit more to justify the runtime and make that last stretch feel a bit more meaningful and important rather than “Dwayne wanted this so we’re going to include it.”
Overall, though, I’d happily watch the sequel. It’s also made me excited for the Fast X sequel and return of Hobbs to the mainline.
Oy vey. What an absolute mess. In hindsight, it’s hilarious how many big names hyped The Flash up before release. It’s just as rickety as any of the other major DCEU theatrical releases: strong characters and a somewhat decent core story undone by plot points that are often dumb or nonsensical, outrageous tonal instability, and lackluster action sequences. The majority of my time watching theatrical versions of DCEU movies is just me repeatedly thinking or saying out loud, “Why would you do that?” The Flash is no different. Actually, it might be the most egregious.
I keep saying “theatrical” because even though I hated Batman v Superman, I love the director’s cut. Same with Justice League. The Snyder Cut was well worth the wait. So it’s not like every DCEU movie is bad. I also enjoyed Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, and thought Shazam had more positives than negatives. But, clearly, Warner Bros. has some leadership issues where they keep getting in their own way. My head cannon is that WB wasn’t as invested in Wonder Woman so Patty Jenkins and Allan Heinberg got to stay a bit more true to their vision. But after it was a huge success, they got their stupid hands on 1984 and made it the disaster it is. Same thing with Shazam to Black Adam. I could be completely wrong about that. I’d be very curious to find out.
With The Flash, there’s a nice concept about grief and coming to terms with grief and the idea that even though tragedy is awful it’s also makes us who we are. We see the difference between main Barry and 2013 Barry. 2013 Barry, the one whose mom is still alive, is so much more insufferable and selfish and immature. That contrast between who Barry could have been and who he is tracks for me. I’ve said it in these updates before, but my dad passed when I was 20. My mom when I was 25. It’s not like I became an entirely different person. But each loss absolutely re-focused my priorities. I was in college when I lost my dad. Again, I was still me. It’s just how I reacted to things, what bothered me, where my interests were—that all changed. The things that were stressing out my friends and used to also stress me out—no longer even moved the needle.
So I can appreciate what The Flash wants to explore here. It resonated with me and I’m sure it will do the same for others. Even more, I think it will help a lot of people who will, unfortunately, go through something similar and be uncertain how to deal with it. The Flash will be an important movie for them. Just like The Land Before Time and The Lion King were for previous generations.
With that said, I still ranked The Flash very low. Why? Because I thought almost every scene was goofy or dumb or boring or, at best, decent. Even if I appreciated the concepts, I disagreed with the scene-by-scene execution. The Chrono Bowl is a great example. That is legitimately one of the stupidest concepts I’ve ever seen. Barry runs fast enough to go back in time. But arrives in a pocket world? How does him running create a pocket world that’s essentially a remote control of his life? Then it’s chock full of bad CGI? Why do both Barry’s go to the same bowl? Why not different bowls? And why is that Chrono Bowl actually in a galaxy of worlds? And why are the other worlds actual universes with space-time tears that can see the Chrono Bowl? Why is Barry’s bowl not an entire universe?
To be clear, I know of the Speed Force but I’m not a Flash comic reader. So maybe there’s a simple answer of “It’s part of the Speed Force!” and die hard Flash fans think I’m an idiot. But that’s kind of the issue. If you’ve just watched the movies, then this thing is utter nonsense that will probably never be elaborated on. So it kind of doesn’t matter if there’s a comic book answer because it still means the movie’s implementation leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s also kind of bizarre that the other worlds all focused solely on Superman. I know Superman is the core of DC. And that finding him (only to find Kara) was a plot point and that 2013 Barry wants to save Kara. But there seemed to be zero diegetic reason to suddenly have every era of Superman looking off at the Chrono Bowl through the space-time tear. The only reason for it to happen is because the studio wanted it to happen. “Hey, we’re featuring all these Batman throwbacks, we need to get Superman in there. So find a way to do that.” The only movie reeks to me of “find a way to do that” and lackluster problem solving.
Barry loses his powers! How does he get them back? Batman happens to have a bat-shaped lightning conducting kite that ties to a machine that seems made specifically for capturing a lightning strike? Not only that, Batman had every chemical necessary that would led to Barry gaining the exact powers he had before? But then that doesn’t work lol. Maybe because the strike was channelled rather than direct? So then Kara flies Barry into a storm and we get the strike. Is that interesting? Is that dynamic? Is it even necessary? Why have Barry lose his powers in the first place? It puts him more in a mentor role for 2013 Barry. But he’d have to mentor 2013 Barry anyway. It’s not like the story revolved around Barry being too reliant on his powers and not appreciating what it means to slow down. And why would the process that gave him his powers take them away? That’s like saying 1 + 1 = 0. One of my least favorite tropes is the “hero loses their powers until just before the final fight”. So I’m already inclined to dislike the choice. But then for it to be so utterly superficial is even more boring.
The only times The Flash was really interesting to me were when Batfleck or Kara were on screen. Otherwise, it just wasn’t working.
Actually, the best part of The Flash was the few seconds we got of the Nic Cage Superman. I had no idea that was going to happen and before they revealed Cage, I kept thinking, “I’d rather just watch whatever was going on in that world.” Then, lo and behold, only the biggest “what if” in comic book movie history. Though, I imagine, if WB did try to make a feature-length version of the Nic Cage Superman that they’d mess it up like they do everything else.
Maybe this next era under James Gunn will be better. But I also didn’t like either of the Squad movies. Peacemaker was decent, though. We’ll see. I’m willing to give Blue Beetle a shot. But, still, it looks like a far cry from the absolute quality of The Joker and The Batman. DC really should use that auteur blueprint as their foundation and let all kinds of filmmakers take a crack at interesting, dynamic, self-contained interpretations of the characters. Give me a Guillermo Del Toro Superman movie. A Claire Denis Mr. Freeze. Park Chan-wook’s version of Deathstroke. Whatever gets WB to stop trying to do it themselves.
Past Lives is awesome. It’s a literary romantic comedy. All the charm of a When Harry Met Sally or La La Land but more grounded and lived in and poetic. “But Chris! Isn’t La La Land poetic?” It’s big and cinematic. Chazelle’s take on a romance lacks the delicacy that I associate with poetry. But, yes, La La Land is visually pretty. I think Past Lives is way way way way way way way prettier. Just in the simplicity of its cinematography and the gentle way it uses different shot sizes and focuses to emphasize setting. One of the brilliantly subtle things Past Lives does is show the twilight darkening of a curtain as symbolic for the light going out on the college-era connection between Nora and Hae Sung. Then the next morning dawn on the same curtain implies it’s the start of a next chapter—and, sure enough, that leads to Nora meeting Arthur.
There’s also this great moment where we see Hae Sung in the military and he’s just sitting with a bunch of other soldiers. Nothing happens. So you think, initially, that all the scene conveyed was that Hae Sung spent some time in the military. Except later, when he’s in New York, he tells Nora that when he was in the military that he thought of her a lot and that’s what made him want to find her back in that college period. The implication there is that the scene we saw of him that seemingly had nothing important happening was actually incredibly important because it was the moment Hae Sung remembered Nora. It’s little things like that that I go crazy for.
Greta Lee and Teo Yoo do such a tremendous job of building the connection and vulnerability and portraying these characters at very different points in their lives. And then when we meet Arthur, he’s so hilariously New York and Jewish that the contrast was so perfect to me. I loved all three characters and performances.
It actually reminded me of college. Fall semester of Freshman year, I was dating this girl and she really made me feel special. One time I caught her looking at me and asked her “What is it?” and she said, “I just feel so lucky that we met.” Like, what? That blew my mind. Me? She liked me that much? She kept planning things we were going to do that summer and when she’d come visit me in Ohio. Two weeks later, though? She came back from seeing her friends and was so so so sad. I asked her what it was and she said her ex was there and told her he loved her and that she didn’t know what to do. The next day, we were on a break. But still talking. Still hanging out. Two weeks later they were officially back together on Facebook. Facebook was how I found out. I hated this guy. He was a sophomore. Everyone else loved him. For the next month, I was complaining to everybody on the baseball team, and in the business program, and in my fraternity, and the response was always: “That’s awful! I’m sorry. Who was the guy? Oh? Him? I like him.” But I knew he was an evil, stupid, horrible, no good jerk.
Then we bumped into each other.
And talked. Kept talking. Got dinner together. Talked some more. Ended up getting pizza at 2am. At the end of it, there was a genuine mutual respect. We both wanted her to be happy. We both were sad for me. But good for him. He was cool. Did that hurt? Absolutely. But it was such an enlightening experience to see how pointless the jealousy was and to just be able to be happy that others were happy and know I’ll be okay. That was an important thing to go through. And I think making the choice to be the person who could look beyond myself and humanize the situation and her and him was really a fork-in-the-road kind of moment that helped me get through a lot of other potentially soul crushing experiences in my life rather than fall into the swamp of woe-is-me.That’s not a story that’s simple to make a movie about. So I’m happy Past Lives exists. I think it will be instructive to a lot of people and cathartic for others who have been through similar or tangential situations. Celine Song hit it out of the park and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
The Lighthouse is definitely my favorite Eggers movie out of Witch, Lighthouse, and Northman. I liked Northman enough but the classic nature of the story made its beats a bit predictable. Though it’s such a visual feast. That final fight is incredible. The Witch—I was less into it. Again, visually great. But familiar, basic narrative beats that didn’t do enough to really impress me. To me, it was more like a proof of concept. The Lighthouse is pretty terrific though. The descent into madness story is also a bit predictable but the path there is so unique and bizarre and visually poetic that it was more than okay.
It might be a weird comparison since they’re completely different settings and styles but Lighthouse reminded me of Apocalypse Now. Both explore madness but through different impetuses. For Apocalypse Now, it’s war. And Lighthouse is isolation, routine, patriarchy, denial. It’s a lot more raw and in the guts of the human condition. Where Apocalypse Now has those qualities but is specifically a commentary on the Vietnam War. That changes the energy a bit. Apocalypse Now stays a bit more grounded to make the real feel unreal. While Lighthouse is free to go wild.
Despite the rough first decade of his career, post-Twilight Pattinson has been a force of nature. Of actors who had their first film in the 00s, he has to be one of the best, right? I know it’s kind of unfair to always put Pattinson and Kristen Stewart together just because of the Twilight movies but both of them have recovered from that franchise so gracefully. They have tremendous taste when it comes to what projects to pursue.
Man, the very last shot of Lighthouse was so worth it. It’s jarring but brutally enthralling. The whole movie is series of paintings but him on the rocks with the gulls is the masterpiece. It’s mythology. I love it.
TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS
I’m a huge fan of Transformers. As a kid, I watched the 1986 animated movie like 10,000 times. As an adult, I’ve watched the 1986 animated movie like 100 times. It’s still perfect. I also love Beast Wars. I bought the box set a few years ago and the show isn’t always perfect but is of shockingly good quality. The whole Dinobot character journey is arguably one of the best character arcs in the history of kids shows. So when I tell you I hated Rise of the Beasts, know that I say it with sadness and as someone who hoped it would be great.
I wasn’t a fan of what Michael Bay did with his Transformers universe. He made it stupid. The dialogue was stupid. The characters were stupid. The action was often pretty stupid. Optimus having flames was stupid. I’ll never get over Megatron yelling out “I smell you, boy!” YOU’RE A GIANT F***ING ROBOT! DO YOU SMELL? YOU HAVE OLFACTORY SENSORS? The redeeming quality for the Bay-verse, according to the Bay-gang, is the sense of style that Bay brought to the films. Which, okay, fine. Yeah. Bay is a stylist. Even if what’s happening is often outrageously dumb, and how it’s happening is often enormously frustrating, it had some flair to it. Sure. Fine. I do have fond memories of being in the theater in 2007 and kind of gasping the first time Bumblebee transformed.
But by the time we got to Transformers: The Last Knight, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted anyone else to take the franchise from Bay because someone else had to be able to tell a better story, right? Michael Bay had to be the problem, right? Well, it turns out, no. Maybe it’s because we’re still in the Bay-verse and will seemingly never escape it that the same issues are there? “For the sake of continuity, we must maintain this garbage tier writing!” And that they did.
As bad as things got with Bay, Rise of the Beasts might be worse. It’s often just derivative of what Bay and Travis Knight (Bumblebee) did. I never felt a moment of originality. On top of that, there’s no style. The visuals are also entirely derivative of Bay. At least when the Bay movies were bad, they were cool to look at. Rise of the Beasts doesn’t even have that going for it.
The absolute low-point is how they use Optimus Prime. He has a “character arc” in the sense that in the beginning he doesn’t like or trust humans. By the end, he does! Every single line of dialogue Optimus has is idiotic. He’s an idiot. A him-bot who is tall and athletic but has terrible cognitive processing. Even Optimus Primal is like “Yeah, this guy isn’t the legend I thought he would be.”
I’m sure someone reading this is like, “Chris, that’s the point! He’s growing! This is about him becoming that legend.” Optimus is over a million years old. He’s been through wars. He’s been a leader. The 13 years between Rise of the Beastsand Transformers isn’t going to turn Optimus from a moron into a noble, respected leader.
I’m sure there’s someone who just read that and is like, “Chris, you missed the point! He isn’t growing, he’s just sad and burdened and lost his way. What we see reminds him of who he was and wants to be!” To that person, I say: I’m aware of that because I just wrote you yelling at me about it. Yes, we are witnessing Optimus at a low point. But his low point is stupid and I hate it.
What about the Maximals? That’s the whole selling point of this movie, right? We get Optimus Primal, Cheetor, Rhinox, and Airazor. They get to do cool things, right? Nope. They’re not in a majority of the movie. When they do show up, Rhinox and Cheetor barely speak. Mirage says more in 2 minutes than Rhinox, Cheetor, and Primal say throughout the entire movie. Airazor gets a bit more screen time, which is nice, but not a lot of action.
Oh, the action. Horrendous. The movie’s so busy cross-cutting to what Noah and Elena are doing that we never really get to spend time with what the transformers are doing. Especially in the final battle. You’ll get random shots of Cheetor spearing a generic bad bot or Rhinox punching a generic bad bot or a slo-mo of Primal jumping on a scorpion bot. That’s it. Optimus gets some actual choreography and sequencing against Scourge but the entire time he’s spouting his 1st grade dialogue.
The part that broke my soul is that after they destroy the portal there’s this vacuum effect that occurs that starts sucking everything up into the sky. Optimus can’t find anything to hold on to and is about to go bye bye but someone grabs the ax he’s holding onto! Is it Primal? Or Bumblebee? Nope. It’s Noah wearing his Mirage exo-suit. Last we saw Noah, he was way off in the opposite direction. But luckily he appears out of nowhere and the exo-suit makes him strong enough that he can bear the weight of Optimus Prime. That’s about 22 tons. 44,000 pounds. The vacuum was so strong that it could lift something as immense as Optimus. But not Noah. He has foot clamps!
Idiotic. Idiotic. Idiotic. Idiotic. Idiotic.
The GI Joe thing is so stupid that I’m actually interested to see what they do with it. Which I know I’ll regret. Why can’t someone just make a good Transformers movie? And, no, Bumblebee wasn’t good either. Was it better? Sure. But still leaves a lot to be desired. Just let IDW make Transformers movies. The comics haven’t always been perfect but they’re at least narratively competent. It shouldn’t be this difficult
I’m one of a few people in this world who adores the found footage genre. I think it’s such a unique style. There are very few new genres that can be made. But found footage is definitely one and so infantile even 40 years on from its inception. I think Cloverfield is probably the greatest found footage film to date. It’s such a staple of low budget horror that seeing it branch out into some “bigger” budget and different genres with Cloverfield, Chronicle, and Project X was such a great time for me. I don’t think the last decade has been very kind to found footage, unfortunately. But maybe it’ll have it’s day in the sun again.
This was probably my fifth or sixth time watching Cloverfield. I saw it twice in theaters when it first came out. Felt sick both times. Watched it at home a couple times and felt fine. Got to see it in theaters again and felt sick again. Was like being back in 2008! Except in 2008, the theater was mostly empty but on a Terror Tuesday in Austin, TX, Cloverfield was sold out. Which made me very happy. It’s glad to see people still appreciating it.
15 years on, the three big names behind Cloverfield are pretty impressive figures. JJ Abrams, Matt Reeves, and Drew Goddard. Abrams was, for a while, the most well-known. But Reeves has, in my books at least, far surpassed Abrams. That was before The Batman. But with The Batman being so good—yeah, definitely. Goddard has had the least showy career but I really like Cabin in the Woods, World War Z, The Martian, and Deadpool 2. Bad Times at the El Royale was just okay.
So it makes sense why Cloverfield was so good. It’s the three awesome filmmakers working together in the early stages of their career to make something groundbreaking. And they succeeded. Cloverfield is perhaps the best kaiju movie of the 21st century? Though Attack on Titan is the best overall kaiju story. But AoT is a TV show. So Cloverfield kind of stands tall over the newer Godzilla and King Kong movies. And do we really have anything else? Colossal which was pretty good but also more of a drama. Anything else? Oh yeah, Pacific Rim. Meh.
Like I just wrote about Casino Royale, I appreciate when a movie takes its time. And Cloverfield does that. You kind of forget what you’re supposed to be watching because we get swept up into all the Rob and Beth drama. Then the monster arrives and it’s so good. Especially because you can look at the monster as symbolic of this tension that’s going on between Rob and Beth. The whole movie can be framed as this commentary on relationships and love and what drives us together and apart. You don’t have to take the movie that far to enjoy it but I think what makes it kind of a masterpiece is that you can. It has those literary and poetic elements that something like Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch don’t. The same way the original Godzilla can just be a giant lizard monster wrecking Tokyo or a commentary on science and technology. Good horror is often a statement about some part of the human condition. Cloverfield knows that. Does that.
And just what a dynamic movie. So many cool sections and stretches. It’s a thrill ride. Iconic shots. Emotional range. And as a reaction to 9/11? My goodness. There were movies that tried to capture the shock, awe, horror, and change that 9/11 brought. And some were effective. Others weren’t. “Skyscraper destruction” became a pretty common trope. Cloverfield might be the best embodiment of the immediate and raw confusion and sense of the world-shifting that followed the planes hitting the towers. Very few movies can say that.
So Cloverfield earns incredibly high praise from me. It’s timely and timeless. It’s literary and poetic. It’s cinematic yet home movie. So good.
Casino Royale is pretty much my blueprint for a great blockbuster. It’s big and audacious but has the craftsmanship of an auteur work. And I can’t stress this enough: IT TAKES ITS F***ING TIME. That’s a good thing. I get that there are people who might think Casino Royale is overly long and has boring stretches. I disagree. Every scene is necessary. There’s not a lost moment in this entire movie as it all goes to characterizing and mythologizing James Bond. We’re watching the forging of a legendary figure. That’s so cool. It’s one of the best origin stories I’ve ever seen. Patient. Compelling. Dynamic. Thoughtful. And just understands storytelling.
I saw this in theaters in 2006. I hadn’t been that big of a Bond fan. Especially the last couple Pierce Brosnan movies. Die Another Day had some positives but I loathe The World is Not Enough. So I was ready for a reset. I remember when they announced Daniel Craig and so many people were angry. It was the precursor to the outrage that followed the announcement that Heath Ledger would be the Joker. Now that I think about it, it’s the first big viral Internet meltdown I remember where people overreacted about casting news then were proven absolutely, positively wrong. What a sign of things to come. In 2023, similar meltdowns happen each and every month. But back in 2005, it was novel.
I still remember the opening scene and how happy I was. The style and confidence and competence and tone-setting. It’s so good. Now, 17 years later, I got to see Casino Royale in theaters again and it was just as good. Maybe even better? I feel like between 2000 and 2006, we were still getting a lot of higher-quality blockbusters. Gladiator, Lord of the Rings, Bourne Identity, Gangs of New York, Pirates of the Caribbean, King Kong. So Casino Royale wasn’t different, it was just elevating the Bond franchise to what others were already doing. But now? In 2023? The blockbuster is pretty just superhero movies and the like, Christopher Nolan, or Denis Villeneuve. Those aren’t bad things. I like superhero movies. I (kind of) like Nolan. And I love Denis. But we’re very far away from the days of Casino Royale.
“But Chris, we just had No Time To Die!” Yeah. Exactly. Watch Casino Royale then watch No Time To Die and it’s such a dramatic difference in quality. No Time is a cartoon. Casino Royale is big budget literature. Am I being snobbish? Absolutely. But a duck is a duck.
I think the thing I love most about Casino Royale is probably what most people consider the most boring part—that final 20 minutes between Bond and Vesper. I still recall being in the theater in 2006 and laughing that the movie was still going and how it felt like Return of the King. We get it, Bond’s happy. Cool. Roll credits. And then there’s the inevitable betrayal. 19 year old me never saw it coming. Vesper used Bond?!?! I absolutely loved that I bought into their relationship so much that I put two and two together the same time Bond did. And there was just that sinking feeling, the shock, the betrayal. I had been ready to leave the theater for like 10 minutes! I thought things were over! Then it ramps back up to this Shakespearian tragedy? Unbelievable. So cool. It’s a great example of form and function. Giving us just enough time at the end of the movie where we think nothing more could happen and that things are good between them. Only to play on what audiences have been condition to expect. Masterful.
After all these years, and close to a dozen times watching Casino Royale, it still makes me incredibly happy. It’s so good with micro narratives. Like watch a Fast and Furious movie then watch Casino Royale and you see what the action sequences in Fast and Furious are mostly missing (aside from 6 and 10).
It’s a shame the franchise never lived up to the potential of Royale. Skyfall almost got there but kind of goes off the rail in the last 30 minutes. Maybe the next revamp will figure it out?
YOU HURT MY FEELINGS (2023)
Your Hurt My Feelings was pretty good. It’s small, simple, good cast. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is as dynamic and awesome as ever, though in a more toned down, grounded kind of way. Which is kind of a nice change of pace from her bigger characters. This is definitely a festival film. And one that you kind of discover, are charmed by, kind of forget about but end up recalling fondly for the rest of your life. I think if I saw this in my 20s, I’d not be able to relate to it quite as much. Being in my mid-thirties, married, it definitely resonated. I’m not quite to the point the characters are but I can see it.
You Hurt My Feelings is definitely saying something about that third-quarter part of life in a way that most mainstream movies don’t. And it’s not cheesy in the way of something like Book Club. It has that New York sophistication that will play to people who have read, at some point in their life, an issue of The New Yorker. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener has a deft touch and does a great job exploring nuances of self and relationships and life. And really digging into this dynamic between who we are and what we do and the roles we have in the lives of others. You can watch You Hurt My Feelings, laugh consistently, then not think anything more about it. But there’s actually a pretty deep vein of existentialism and self-reflection that’s there if you want to mine it.
I was a big fan of Arian Moayed in Succession so it’s nice to see him in something completely different. And Michaela Watkins kind of steals the movie. Tobias Menzies I’ve seen in Game of Thrones and original-Game of Thrones (Rome) but had completely forgotten about. Very charming.
It’s worth watching. Won’t knock your socks off. But solid movie that you’re happy to have seen.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELUM
Of the first three John Wicks, I think Chapter 3 is probably the most creative in terms of visuals and action. It feels like a payoff on the tone and style of the original movies but they finally had the budget and time to go big in the ways they wanted to go. For people who are into the films for the spectacle, it lives up to the hype. And is probably my favorite in the franchise when it comes to spectacle. Narratively? Eh.
I still find all of the “it’s a world full of assassins who all honor this code and live under the rule of this shadowy society” stuff to be pretty silly. I get that it’s the exact reason some people love the movie. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Just not necessarily for me. Which is weird. I’m fine with The Boys and their world of superheroes because it’s “believable” in the sense of “if superheroes did suddenly exist, what would that world look like?” Whereas the John Wick series is like “Hey, here’s this normal, every day world you know, EXCEPT THERE’S A SECRET SOCIETY THAT HAS THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WHO ARE PART OF IT AND A WHOLE STAFF THAT DRESSES ALL OLD-TIMEY AND THEY HAVE RULES AND ADJUDICATORS AND ALL SORTS OF THINGS.” How many people need assassins? Who is training all of them? How are they all making enough money when the job market is so full of qualified employees? Who are the people working in the offices? Do they not have families? Why do they dress like that? It all feels so fake and forced to me.
I can buy into The Matrix because, like The Boys, it’s exploring a world that’s different from ours and fully formed. If John Wick was just some dystopian world full of assassins, sure. Like Dredd being full of Judges or Mad Max being this post-apocalyptic place. Or even a few assassins gathered together like Bullet Train or Smokin Aces. But the more John Wick leans into all of its outlandish world building, the more I lose interest.
Though the whole journey being a way to bring Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne back together might be worth it.
Halle Berry was great in Parabellum. The scenes with her might have been my favorite stretch of the movie. And it was awesome to see Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman. I’m a huge fan of Raid and Raid 2 so them fighting Keanu Reeves was awesome. It seemed like there was a ton of mutual respect there.
So it was fun but I disagree with the world of John Wick on a fundamental level. But obviously a lot of people love it and I’m happy for them. The action genre needs popular movies like this.
SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE
Awesome. This was such a long-awaited sequel. It’s a relief that it hit the mark. I’m still trying to decide if it’s better than the original or just different. It’s definitively a level-up in terms of scope and scale. That’s typically up my alley. But I’m not sure if the high points were quite as high? When Miles finally finds his spark in Into the Spider-Verse, it’s such a powerful moment. And the death of Peter Parker. And Uncle Aaron. So many kind of iconic feeling scenes! Across the Spider-Verse is endearing and stylish and dynamic and great. But because it’s a set-up movie it doesn’t have the payoffs. Yet. I imagine Beyond the Spider-Verse will deliver the goods.
With all that said, it’s not like I’m disappointed with Across the Spider-Verse. On the contrary, I’m happy they took the time to split it into two movies. There’s so much they’re exploring with both Miles and Gwen that they needed to actually develop. To do that, you need scene after scene that shows and builds and develops. The alternative is White Men Can’t Jump (2023) where superficial exposition drives the story. It’s awesome that Lord and Miller had not only the skill to do it right but the freedom from Sony. I feel like Sony often gets in the way of a lot of their movies but they’ve been pretty good about leaving the Spider-Verse films alone.
My biggest complain has to do with the treatment of Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider. On the one hand, I’m glad he got included and had some screen time. On the other hand, they made him a bit…idiotic? Any hope for future character development seems unlikely.
Spider-Punk was awesome. And I like how they give Miguel some moments where you’re like, “He seems like a pretty good guy” but then clearly make him terrifying and wrong. It has me excited for him coming to his senses and fully embracing working with Miles. I still remember when the 2099 universe was born and getting issue #1. It’s nice that over the last few years that the character has had a resurgence in popularity.
One last kind of weird note. Was anyone else thrown by the use of blurry backgrounds? It was so consistent that I thought my theater was showing a 3D version of the movie but didn’t give anyone glasses. Things in the foreground were always crisp and in focus. But background elements were often a bit blurred. I’m sure there’s some aesthetic explanation for this that goes back to the art style they’re trying to invoke. I’m sure it’s cool and makes sense. Not so sure it worked, though? It’s the only genuine criticism I have with the movie. Not a big one, mind you. Was just a bit distracting on the first watch.
Really looking forward to Beyond the Spider-Verse. I hope we don’t have to wait too long. Apparently it’s March 2024. I’ll be counting down the days!
I hated F9, Fate of the Furious, and Furious 7. But I love Fast X. It might be my favorite movie in the entire franchise. Let me tell you, going in, that’s the last thing I expected. I was dreading seeing this movie. Over the last two weeks, I’ve watched the entire franchise and that’s too much. Especially when I disliked 7, 8, and 9 so much. Yet, here we are. I kept waiting for the movie to go off the rails and do something I thought was truly stupid. And it never did. It’s not perfect, of course. But it’s a lot more refined than its recent predecessors.
The big thing I come back to in this franchise is lack of micro narratives in set pieces to give them a sense of beginning, middle, and end, and too much cartoon logic to the point of ruining any semblance of suspension of disbelief. Fast X has micro narratives in its set pieces and even though there is a lot of cartoon logic it’s grounded enough for me to enjoy. Like in F9, we’re talking Dom swinging a car across a canyon by hooking a rope to the wheel of his car by driving over the rope and turning the wheel. In X, it’s just like…backing a car out of a plane and it still driving and racing down the face of a dam. Those are outrageous propositions but not mind meltingly stupid like the canyon swing.
I enjoyed the action. Jason Momoa is definitely doing Heath Ledger’s Joker mixed with Liberace. It wasn’t always working? But it’s also often incredibly entertaining. I’ll take him going for something outrageous over something stale and boring. Dante might be my favorite villain in the history of the franchise. Owen Shaw was the right idea but the character didn’t get to do enough. And I still have a soft spot for Carter Verone from 2Fast. I liked Cipher more in this than I did as the main villain in the previous films.
Overall, though, the big thing for me was that I wasn’t sure where this one would go. Especially since it’s the finale. This is the most confident and coherent a Fast film has felt since 6. And that allowed me to just kick back and go along for the ride. We’ll see if the two sequels can keep that up? But this was a great start.
WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP (2023)
A stunningly awkward movie.
Sinqua Walls steals the show. And it made me happy to see Lance Reddick. The cast is doing a good job. But they’re given some pretty low-quality narrative ingredients to work with. The original Can’t Jump isn’t some literary masterwork but it’s good. It’s believable. This Hulu remake is not. Like Kamal has a single mental hurdle that’s his only Achilles’ heel. That’s one dimensional. It flattens the story because we know that his entire character arc will simply be overcoming that mental hurdle.
That’s not to say it can’t be done well or be interesting. The Waterboy had Bobby Boucher have to overcome infantilization. But that led to this whole dynamic thing where we see him grow up and mature and the situations he gets to experience. It was a combination of “fish out of water” and “coming of age”. But with Kamal, we don’t experience any of that change or growth in terms of his day to day life. It’s just a few moments where he meditates and one time he doesn’t fight on the court. It’s funny because The Waterboy is only 90 minutes while this version of Can’t Jump is 101. Watch them back to back and you’ll see how much more happens in the former even though it’s 11 minutes shorter.
And then we have Jack Harlow’s character. Jeremy. It’s just…bad? I’m a former college athlete who had both my ACLs repaired. The selective knee issues Jeremy has aren’t how post-op ACLs work. You also don’t have the insane scars he has. Maybe if you had the surgery done in the 80s or 90s. But not in the mid to late 2010s. So that was a whole laughable thing. Then the capacity of his character is never developed in a way that I could buy in. On the basketball level, sure. Former college player at a good program. But then why is he in such a bad position? None of his former teammates has a hookup for him? No one from the college? He’s coaching a high-level recruit but no other opportunities? At least in the original, Billy had gambling debts. It’s a huge character flaw that isn’t easily fixed and actually causes him a lot of grief. It’s not “He’s awesome but inexplicably has no options.”
Just watch the scene where Sidney and Billy first meet in the original and compare it to Kamal and Jeremy and there’s an enormous gap in quality. From the visuals, cinematography, and editing to the narrative range and breadth. The original has this whole pick-up sequence that establishes Sidney through the game. Then, eventually, it dovetails with Billy, who has been watching. And we watch Billy get into the game, reveal he can play, then that leads to the hustle. It brings the viewer into a moment and has micro narratives and stakes and you feel like you’re in a place with people who are doing things. In the 2023 version, the pickup game is 10 seconds. Then a bunch of exposition. Then an ugly, low-energy shootout that relies on Jeremy using base-level psychological warfare on a super fragile Kamal. You never get a sense of place or world because the camera is so fixated on the cast and the gym is boring. In the original, the whole sequence takes about 20 minutes. In the remake? Less than eight.
There’s such craftsmanship in the original White Men Can’t Jump. It’s not there in the remake.
F9 is the Godfather II of the franchise. I’m kidding. But we do have that flashback origin story dynamic that Godfather II has. The flashback sequences are probably the best thing about F9. Of course the cast is charming. They always are. But the writing is arguably the worst it’s ever been. And I thought Fate of the Furious was bad. F9 is so stupid that I don’t even feel angry enough to write over 1,000 words like I did for Fate. Scenes are either outrageously cartoonish or derivative of better movies or better moments in the franchise. The absurdity of F9 will definitely appeal to certain people who love movies that completely disassociate from reality and lean into blockbusters being bombastic and not beholden to logic, believability, physics, or any of the tether points that typically allow people to suspend disbelief. F9 is the definition of a movie that wants you to turn your brain off. And if you can do that, like to do that, want to do that, then congratulations.
I have no problem with suspending disbelief. Blade Runner has flying cars in the year 2019? Sure. They’ve perfected growing human replicants? Sure. Disbelief suspended! If the main character suddenly fired lasers from his eyes, you could chalk it up to technology since we know this is a world full of advanced technology. But if the character morphed into a horse one time and it was never explained or mentioned and no one else did anything similar to that—you can be in disbelief. Just because you accept some basics premises about the world doesn’t mean anything and everything goes. There are lines.
With Fast and Furious movies, I suspended a degree of disbelief regarding driving skill. And the first few movies leaned into that aspect more than anything. With F9, I’m watching these untrained people take out highly experienced tactical teams. At least Brian was former-FBI so when he won fistfights, yeah, I could suspend my disbelief. The rest of them? Eh. But then, even with the driving, it’s become insane. During the first action sequence of F9, a car drives over a collapsing rope bridge. This is a trope mostly used in cartoons. But almost always involves a person running across a bridge that’s falling. People are relatively light compared to a car. So I can accept them running for a bit to reach the other side. But a car? In the middle of the bridge? It wouldn’t be driving on anything. It would simply plummet. Even if we accept that. Even if that’s the absolutely far end of our ability to suspend disbelief. You have Dom do something even more outrageous. He drives right into the anchor point for the bridge, catch the support rope onto the wheel of his car, and swing across a gulf to the other side. And just happens to land on a ridge rather than smashing into a wall and blowing up. It’s the stuff of a Saturday morning cartoon for children. There’s no way Dom could have known the rope would catch. That the car would land safely. It’s an entirely unlikely and idiotic thing for him to even attempt.
If I’m watching a movie that does something that narratively outlandish but it’s part of the established tone and vibe and that tone and vibe is “hey, we know this is absurd” then I’m pretty into it. Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle, Turbo Kid, Kung Fury, Sky High, most movies from the 1980s. I’m not some logic-driven maniac who can’t have fun. It’s just when you look at where the Fast movies started to where Fate and F9 take them…it’s dumb. To me, at least. It doesn’t help that I’ve watched 1-9 in the last two weeks. It puts into stark contrast just how ridiculous things have become.
THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS
First, I hate the title. Second, I hate the story. Look, it’s a cool idea to have Dom be the bad guy and see what happens when the Fast Family has to challenge their leader. It also creates a lot of nice moments when he’s trying to push them away and they’re fighting for him. And you can thematically embody that through grappling hooks and vehicular tug-of-war. My issue is that Fast & Furious 6 just had Letty as a villain, doing the exact thing Dom’s doing, with the team not understanding and trying to rescue her. YOU JUST DID THAT STORY TWO MOVIES AGO. I think once you do it with Letty, it’s silly to do it with Dom. So that bothered me pretty much the entire time.
Then there’s the kid. I get it. They had the idea for Dom being evil. But they couldn’t figure out how to justify it. What’s so important that Dom would do that? It’s not money. It can’t involve Brian and/or Mia since they were written out after Paul’s death. You don’t want it to be the Family because you need all of them trying to save Dom, that’s the whole point. A baby. That would be the one and only thing. But you can’t have it be a baby with Dom and Letty because Letty would know what’s going on and explain it to everyone else. So they have it be Dom’s kid with Elena. Sure. Fine. But I think they did Elena pretty dirty with how they got rid of her. AND HOW NO ONE FROM THE FAMILY REACTED. Like Hobbs really liked Elena. He worked with her for years. HE JUST SAVED HER IN FURIOUS 7! BUT WE DON’T GET A REACTION TO HIM FINDING OUT WHAT HAPPENED TO HER? It’s stuff like that that really takes away the nuance and connectivity these movies should have.
Oh, and what about the plot hole with the age. Fast & Furious 6 is supposed to take place in 2013/2014. 7 in 2014. And Fate in 2017. When Dom and Elena talk, she says she was pregnant before he left to go save Letty. That means little Brian is at least 2 years old, maybe even 3. But they make him a literal baby who can only say “Dada”. Which is also insane because the kid has never met Dom. So why’s he looking at Dom and saying “Dada”? I get it’s supposed to be endearing and show the connection between father and son. But it’s low-hanging fruit and stupid. Okay? It’s unearned and stupid. The whole structure behind this “Make Dom the villain” idea was handled horribly. Again, cool idea. Badly done.
Speaking of which: Shaw. What a joke of a character arc. In Furious 7, he’s completely blood thirsty and assassinates Han. In this, he’s charmingly taking care of little Brian and quipping with the team and considered part of the family? I get that they try and show Dom makes friends rather than enemies. They demonstrate that at the beginning when he doesn’t take the guy’s car after the race. He turns him into an ally and the guy even helps out later. Cool. But Shawn assassinated Han. Does that not matter? Everyone just lets that go? I’m not saying there isn’t a way for him to redeem himself and win being part of the group. It’s possible. But how they handle it in this movie? Dumb. Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb.
I was glad to see Luke Evans back.
Also, I’m not a fan of all the Mr. Nobody and Little Nobody stuff. Having Scott Eastwood be a slant version of Paul Walker is just…rough. They don’t give him a Skyline, but they give him another Japanese car: a WRX STI. That was painful. But Nobody reminds me of the Assassin Club in John Wick. It’s the difference between the movie being somewhat grounded and completely ridiculous. In the first John Wick, the Club stuff is there but relatively minor. In John Wick 2, it defines the story. The final scene where everyone in Central Park is part of the club and just pretending to be normal people in Central Park is such a “jump the shark” moment. Sure, there are some people who think it’s awesome and ridiculous in the best way. There is something fantastical and comic book about it. And I don’t use comic book in a demeaning way. I read comics. I love comics. I love plenty of comic book movies. It can just be a bit strange, for me at least, when a franchise starts grounded then escalates to a place of such outrageousness. Like Kick-Ass versus Kick Ass 2.
Fast Five could get away with Hobbs because the level of government Hobbs represented was realistic enough and fit into the tone established by the previous films. It was a bit of an escalation but not a reach. Furious 7 definitely starts to jump the shark, though. And I think Fate of the Furious goes that extra mile. Everything scales out of proportion. There’s no room for any of the actual character moments that made the first handful of movies so compelling. Instead, you get miscommunication and empty drama and no one ever dealing with real consequences or emotional nuance. Before you say, “Chris, these are Fast and Furious movies, aren’t you asking a bit much?” NO! I just watched 8 of them in a week. There was plenty of consequence and emotional nuance and meaningful conflict.
It also doesn’t help that I just watched My Hero Academia do this “main hero becomes the villain and the team has to fight him” story. That show executed it so well, from beginning to end. Even the initial Green Ranger arc in The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers did it better. Dom never has to do anything all that severe. He flips Hobbs’s truck. He flash bangs the team. Kisses Cipher. Drives furiously while the family tries to catch him. And that’s it. There’s some attempt at Cipher getting Dom to lean into his evil side but we know he doesn’t want to. It’s not like he had all these frustrations with the team and is now taking it out on all of them. It’s not like Letty was pushing for him to be a father and he was scared and wanting to run away from that responsibility. The only reason he’s doing this is because he wants to save Elena and Little Brian. The moment Brian’s safe, Dom flips. So the implication of Dom’s darker, selfish side is just something that’s thrown out there but not actually meaningfully set up or developed or explored.
I know I’m writing a lot about this but it’s because I was so happy with Fast & Furious 6 and so hopeful for where the franchise was going to go. For it to lose the plot so much is frustrating.
Oy vey. Furious 7 is kind of insulting. I’ll give you an example. At the beginning of the movie, Hobbs fights Shaw and ends up wounded and in the hospital. At the end of the movie, Hobbs leaves the hospital to join the Fast Family in the final fight against Shaw and Mose Jakande. One scene is Hobbs in the hospital room, suited up. The next, he’s in a commandeered ambulance, driving on a road. He has absolutely no context of what’s going on. He hasn’t been in communication with a single person. All he saw was an explosion from his hospital room and a TV report. You would typically expect something like a shot of him on a highway and he looks out and sees someone from the team, driving, pursued by bad guys. But Furious 7 gives us nothing like that. Just Hobbs speeding on the road, with no idea of where to go. The next time we see him? He’s driving the ambulance off an overpass to crash into a Predator drone that’s about to launch a missile at Letty and Ramsey.
Sure, fine. Maybe you argue that we don’t have to see Hobbs notice a Predator drone chasing Letty and Ramsey. We can assume he saw them then went after them to help. Okay. But in this particular case, Letty drove into a tunnel. For a solid few minutes, she’s driving through this tunnel. Comes out the other side. And it’s just as the Predator exits that Hobbs drives the ambulance over the edge of the road above the tunnel and crashes onto the Predator. THERE’S NO WAY HOBBS COULD KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON. HE WASN’T IN THE TUNNEL. HE WASN’T TALKING TO LETTY. HE WASN’T TRACKING THE DRONE. HE JUST RANDOMLY DROVE OFF THE ROAD AND HAPPENED TO LAND ON THE DRONE. HE COULDN’T HAVE EVEN KNOWN THE DRONE WAS THERE. OR ABOUT TO FIRE. OR ANYTHING. IT’S ONE OF THE STUPIDEST THINGS I’VE EVER SEEN IN A MOVIE. IT’S DUMB. IT’S INSULTING TO THE VIEWER TO THINK PEOPLE CARE SO LITTLE ABOUT BASIC LOGIC THAT THEY’D JUST BE HAPPY WITH SOMETHING SO NONSENSICAL. NO ONE COULD COME UP WITH ANYTHING BETTER? YOU HAVE PEOPLE PAID SO MUCH F***ING MONEY TO WRITE THESE THINGS AND THEY CAN’T BE BOTHERED TO DO BETTER THAN THIS?
If it was just that moment alone, Furious 7 wouldn’t be such a disappointment. But that scene embodies a lackadaisical view of basic logic that permeates the film from start to finish. This isn’t a Fast and Furious movie. It’s a caricature of a Fast and Furious movie. The characters all take a step back in their development. The team is less interesting. The action sequences are less interesting. Mr. Nobody is a cartoon character. Every scene with Shaw and/or Hobbs feels like it’s out of a Marvel movie rather than a Fast and Furious movie. And what a waste of Dijmon Hounsou. He’s such an interesting and compelling actor. But Furious 7 gives him almost nothing to do. It spends all this time with Shaw but then Shaw isn’t even really the major villain? It’s like you had two producers who wanted completely different things and they just said f*** it, we’ll do both. And that was a horrible idea.
There were two things I liked. One was making Han’s death meaningful to a bigger plot point rather than this random thing. It was okay in Tokyo Drift because Han was a side character. But after 4, 5, and 6, to have him go out in a random crash would be silly. So Shaw solved that problem. That was a good solution. I also liked, as insane as it is, the car jump between buildings in Abu Dhabi. I know that might seem hypocritical to my being so upset about Hobbs and the ambulance. But I have a rule of thumb when it comes to movie logic.
We all know the trope where a character shoots a lock and it works. In real life, it doesn’t work. At least not so often, or so easily. But we accept it in movies and TV because there’s at least some degree of reasonable doubt. If I can look at something and go, “I mean…maybe?” Then I’m usually okay with it. Even if it’s something that I actually know is 99.9999999% impossible. Like driving a car out one building, through the air, and into another building. Then doing it again. It’s dumb. But, I mean, maybe? Every year in Alaska, they launch cars off a cliff. And, I mean, they go pretty far. So…maybe? Just give me some attempt at logic and I’ll give some attempt to accept the ridiculous thing you want me to accept. Hobbs timing driving an ambulance off the edge of a road to land on a Predator drone when it’s literally impossible for him to time it? That’s just dumb. At least the car flying between buildings was fun.
I will say, everything with Paul Walker at the end did make me cry a lot. He did great in this movie. They were definitely the best action sequences for him personally.
FAST & FURIOUS 6
This is the best Fast movie since the original. There’s still something about the original that keeps it at the top for me. There’s a simplicity, earnestness, and groundedness that all the sequels lack, especially as things just continue to get more explosive and out of hand. Fast & Furious 6 at least balances everything pretty well.
In my thoughts on Fast Five, right below this, I mentioned marrying story and action. Fast Five did it better than some of the previous films but it was still kind of basic and not fully grasping the use of micro narrative within a set piece. Much less combining micro narrative, thematics, and spectacle. 6 does! Which is great! It fully develops subplots, drives those subplots via conflict and resolution during its action sequences, then escalates those until the climactic runway set piece where everything comes together. I’m writing this having watched movies 1-8, and so far the runway climax is the best set piece in the franchise up through Fate of the Furious. I was so happy that they finally got it and put it all together. Which makes the next two sequels infuriating but you can read about that in the write-ups for those films.
Luke Evans is probably the best villain the franchise has had? Aside from the guy in 2 Fast. He’s got a great look. Feels dangerous. Has an angle (precision) and a code (switch out parts) that conflicts thematically with Dom (loyalty). They set him up, build him up, then make the team earn defeating him. It’s nice.
This is also the most screen time the entire Fast Family has had. And I genuinely found myself getting on board with the group. It helps that we know what Letty had and what she’s currently missing. Them winning her back over almost serves as them winning the viewer over. I always liked Dom and Letty individually but this went a long way to cement them as a couple, something that was kind of taken for granted in the previous films.
So, yeah, Fast & Furious 6 is essentially the ceiling for the franchise, in terms of being a big blockbuster. Maybe 9 and 10 will be better. I kind of doubt it? If 7 and 8 are any indication. But I’m glad we have at least one movie where they were able to put it all together and really deliver.
This was my second time seeing Fast Five. I caught it in theaters back in 2011. I remember people raving about it. I also remember thinking it was really good, especially the final action sequence. 12 years later, eh. Not bad. Definitely a vast improvement over Fast & Furious. Which is funny because it’s the same writer (Chris Morgan) and director (Justin Lin). I’m not sure what changed between 2009 and 2011? Whatever it was, it made a difference. Fast Five does a much better job of marrying story and action. It has a much stronger sense of spectacle. It’s weird to say that the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is the best example of meaningful, big budget action sequences…but it is. Those first few films have an elite understanding of the relationship between action, narrative, and character. Same with The Raid and The Raid 2. Fast Five is the first of the Fast movies that has a grasp of it. Which makes it a true step up for the franchise.
What’s actually kind of startling to me is this being the genesis of the modern Fast Family. Obviously “family” as a theme has been present since the original. And in the second movie, we get Brian working with Roman and Tej, with a major emphasis on the brotherhood shared by Brian and Roman. Fast & Furious showed that Han was part of the family but it was a brief bit at the beginning. Fast Five is really the first time we get all the major members together and interacting as a team. Which is great. The energy is there. The potential is there. It’s just…kind of underwhelming to me? I don’t think we see enough of everyone bonding to really believe they’re going to drop everything for one another and always prioritize the family over everything. I’m writing this having gotten half-way through the next movie. So I’m specifically thinking about how bonded they all are in that. And part of me just can’t help thinking, “Did they earn this?”
I get Brian and Dom, Brian and Roman. I get Dom and Han (kind of). And Han and Gisele. But Roman and Dom? Gisele and Tej? Han and Tej? I expected a bit more in the interaction department and actually found myself a bit disappointed because of how little they actually developed the team.
Also, the whole Dom and Elena relationship is super undercooked. Especially when we find out in the next movie that they’re just legit a couple and she’s living with him. I guess he did just get away with $100 million. But damn.
The Rock was pretty rough to watch. In 2011, I was legit happy that The Rock did such a good job and held his own. Now, not so much. He’s a lot better in Fast & Furious 6. It’s also a little sad because we’re in a post-Black Adam world where Dwayne’s fallen out of public favor. With the emergence of John Cena and Dave Bautista as ex-WWE guys who have size and dramatic range, it’s caused people to re-evaluate Dwayne and the fact he plays the same character over and over and over. Fast Five is a reminder of just how one-dimensional he’s been (aside from Pain & Gain).
I get why Fast Five is an important point in the history of the franchise. And why people who like the spectacle and team dynamic would probably rank this higher than the movies that came before it. There’s a lot to appreciate. Just for what I look for and want, Fast Five left a bit to be desired. I definitely prefer 1 and 2.
FAST & FURIOUS
This is the first movie in the Fast franchise that I think is actively bad. The whole issue with empty action that kind of ruined the end of Tokyo Drift? Yeah, that’s the entirety of Fast & Furious. Like the opening sequence is a callback to the original movie but is also a demonstration of how much more bombastic and big budget the franchise has become. That doesn’t mean it’s better, though. The original’s opening was lean and stylistic and set up a meaningful part of the story. In Fast & Furious it’s spectacle for the sake of spectacle. You could cut it entirely and nothing really changes.
It’s nice to have Walker and Diesel back. I just wasn’t all that interested in what the movie had them doing. For Dom, he wants to avenge Letty. That’s it. There’s not really a character arc. Sure, he and Brian work through their differences. What does that mean to Dom, though? Does losing Letty mean he’s more open to connecting with Brian? Less open? His character is mostly just the stone cold avenging angel with some moments of mutual respect with Brian. Far less interesting than the first film.
For Brian, he wants to reconnect with Dom and Mia and make amends for putting her in the situation that got her killed. Okay. That’s not too bad. It’s just, in the first movie we saw Brian wanting Dom’s approval and trying to win over Mia. So to have 2 of the 3 movies he’s been in be that exact arc…it’s not that interesting to me. We saw it. We can assume Dom and Mia will take him back. And they do. And it’s kind of bland. It reminds me of the Chris Pine Star Trek movies and how the first film is putting together the team. Then in the first 10 minutes of the second movie, the team disbands. And the rest of the movie is getting the team back together again. Repeating the same beats, even if they’re under a different context, bores the hell out of me.
So Fast & Furious had little in the way of character arcs and action that had no substance to it because the story had almost nothing meaningful going on. It’s brutal. Like, “Dom, Brian, you have to win this race.” And then it’s this all-style-no-substance race with zero spectacle and zero micro-narratives aside from “Will Dom or Brian win?” It’s 5 minutes of filler until we finally get to the next story beat. And it’s that, over and over again. At least in the previous movies, some of the action coincided with important character or story beats.
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT
I’m writing this having watched 5.5 movies from the Fast franchise. Tokyo Drift is definitely very different than 2, 4, 5, and 6. But it’s pretty close to the first one. Which is still my favorite. For like three-fourths of Tokyo Drift, I thought it was the best in the franchise (that I’ve watched so far). Lucas Black isn’t Paul Walker or Vin Diesel. Not by a long shot. So I get why people who love the franchise can feel a certain way about Tokyo Drift. But I think it had some great energy to it. The thing about the first Fast and Furious is that it had compelling characters and style but some narrative issues when it came to subplots and resolutions. 2 Fast improved on that yet was a tad goofier in tone. Charming. But still a bit silly, almost caricature-y.
Tokyo Drift is more grounded than 2 Fast but handled its plot development better than the original. So things were going really well. Until Han’s fiery “demise”. After that, it gets a bit ridiculous. First, the reaction to Han’s passing is so minuscule that it might as well have not even happened. The subplot with Sean and his dad is about as undercooked as it gets. The idea of a pissed off Yakuza agreeing to his nephew settling a financial and repetitional situation through a street race is just…okay. And then the actual race between Sean and DK is pretty well executed but very, very, very empty. It’s this extended sequence that lacks any real drama because there’s no narrative nuance to the sequence. It’s just “Will he or won’t he win?” And we know he will. It renders the entire race flat. Compared, to say, the final race in Speed Racer where there’s emotional catharsis and micro-narratives within the race itself.
For the final sequence of Tokyo Drift to work, you either need some kind of strong narrative component or spectacle. And it doesn’t have either. Then ends super awkwardly. Which is true for The Fast and the Furious. I don’t know why this franchise struggles with the endings so much.
2 FAST 2 FURIOUS
This was an okay sequel. It’s funny, knowing what the Fast franchise has become, you can see how 2 Fast really set the stage. The villain is more fleshed out. The heist is elaborate. A whole team has to come together. The Fast and the Furious was so in love with Dom that the story revolved around developing that character and his dynamic with Brian. It also, in hindsight, left a lot of side plots hanging. 2 Fast is arguably a better written film. It’s also just a tad bit dumber/sillier. It relies on the audience turning their brain off and enjoying the ride. Which isn’t inherently a bad thing. Some people prefer exactly this kind of movie. I did miss some of the visual style of the original. Tyrese was a great replacement for Dom. Especially because he’s so different than Dom.
I actually really loved how they connected 2 Fast and The Fast and the Furious by saying that Brian let Dom go because of this backstory element of Roman getting arrested years earlier. By saving Dom, Brian was, in some ways, saving Roman. That Roman finds out about it and that’s what helps him forgive Brian—I like that. I get why others might think it’s a little silly but I appreciated at least some narrative consequence and connection. It helps build out Brian and the universe a bit more.
Back to Roman and Dom. In the first movie, Brian’s trying to win over this stoic dude. And it’s a cool dynamic that has a satisfying conclusion. There’s clearly mutual respect and appreciation. And TFatF goes above and beyond to make us think having Dom’s respect is an awesome thing. They could have replaced him with someone equally as stoic. Instead, they went with Roman being bombastic and hilarious. Completely different energy. But it brings out a different side of Brian. Instead of being this slick, collected undercover cop—Brian gets to bro out and have fun. On the character level, it’s nice. Even if that attitude kind of doesn’t fit the seriousness of the plot the two are caught up in. But isn’t that the charm of the franchise?
So there was a good amount to like. I forgot about the rat and the pot. And Eva Mendes. Tyrese was definitely my favorite part. But Cole Hauser did a great job as Carter Verone. He kind of carried every scene he was in. It’s a shame the character hasn’t been back in the franchise.
Hypnotic is a rough movie. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie? Yeah, there are issues with dialogue and exposition. Yeah, the premise is kinda of absurd, to the point where some viewers will struggle to maintain their suspension of disbelief. Yet there’s something there. You know how sometimes you watch a movie and just wish you had the time back? That wasn’t the case here. I was satisfied. If Robert Rodriguez told me right now that there’s a planned sequel to Hypnotic, I’d be happy to hear it and excited to watch it.
I think what I liked the most was that Hypnotic could have ended at its twist and just been like “WHAT A TWIST, RIGHT? The end!’ Instead, it kept going, and those final 20 minutes were the most interesting of the entire movie. The comparisons that come to mind are Shutter Island meets M. Night Shyamalan meets Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia.
What’s funny is that there’s a mid-credits scene that re-contextualizes Hypnotic‘s ending. But of the 30 people in my theater, only 5 of us saw it. I wonder what percentage of people actually know the movie’s true ending and not what they think the ending is. I could imagine this gaining a cult following and like 50% of viewers completely miss the mid-credit scene.
What’s also kind of funny is that there’s an in-world reason why some of the dialogue and plot is bad/dumb. That raises the question: does that matter? “Okay, that guy said something stupid because [redacted]. But it doesn’t change the fact the dialogue was stupid.” Should that degree of intentionality make us less critical of it? I don’t know.
Ultimately, I’ll say Hypnotic is at least interesting to watch. Which is all I want. So it’s a success in my
I’m pretty torn on Guardians Vol. 3. It was nice to get Rocket’s backstory. Everything involving Rocket made me tear up over and over again. So I really felt the emotion. Great character arc across the trilogy. Chukwudi Iwuji as High Evolutionary tore it the f*** up. Like with Kang in Quantumania, Evolutionary often stole the movie. That was good.
In terms of the MCU, this was better than what we’ve been getting but I still didn’t think it was great. The whole Adam Warlock subplot was kind of embarrassing. The false Star-Lord death was cheap. As was his recovery. I just watched the worst episode of Ted Lasso ever and was already a bit worn out on forced sentimentality. That meant many of the “sweet” moments in Vol. 3 had me rolling my eyes. Like the group hug after Adam Warlock saved Peter. Don’t get me wrong, I still cried a bit. And laughed at Adam getting in on the hug. But I was unhappy about it.
I’ve also come to realize that I have a pet peeve for an over-reliance on pop music. Like we have one scene that uses a pop song as a score. It ends. Then a minute later a new scene starts up with a new song. I get that it creates a playlist/mixtape like effect, something that’s been a defining motif of the trilogy. I just find it a bit exhausting. A well-placed, well-picked song can be incredibly powerful. But a medley like this begins to bore me.
But. It was epic. And I like epics. Vol. 3 also took the time to let its main plots and subplots develop. I’ll always appreciate that. Otherwise we get superficial, “just hit the bullet points” stories like Quantumania or Thor: Love and Thunder. Also! The hallway fight scene was one of the most creative action sequences in all the MCU. So there’s ultimately and definitely more good than negative. I was just too often pulled back and forth between liking a few choices then disliking something. I don’t think I’m a fan of Kraglin but I loved Cosmo. She was, absolutely, a good dog.
I think I’d rank them Guardians Vol. 2, then Vol. 3, then the original.
And now we wait for the next MCU movie.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2
John Wick: Chapter 2 was pretty good. I get why some people probably think it’s excellent. However, my least favorite part of John Wick was all the “league of assassins” stuff because it’s very silly. Others probably think it’s cool. That’s fine. But it’s kind of stupid. To me. That there are just high-level assassins everywhere and they all honor this code. Okay. Ha. Okay. Sure. It was a relatively minor part of the first movie. In the second, though? It’s most of the movie. The code, the ethics, the dozens of other assassins. It turns it from a mostly-grounded universe to something far more comic book-y. That’s not inherently a bad thing. It can be done well. And it’s not like I’m against comic book movies. But I’d lean more for something like Dredd than what John Wick: Chapter 2 is doing. Give me the dystopian world. Not “A world just like our own but with an underground assassin society”. Instead of being cool, it just makes me think of the league of magicians in Now You See Me and how ridiculous the idea of an underground high-level magician world is.
Also, as exciting as the action sequences can be and as great of a job as Keanu does, I’m over how many times John Wick does a flip and a roll. He doesn’t flip and/or roll against every person he fights. But it happens in 90% of sequences. It’s not a move you see all that often. So it stood out in John Wick as a unique part of the fight choreography. But during Chapter 2 the flips, rolls, and Equilibrium-like gung-fu become a bit stale. So while there was a lot more action, none of it moved the needle for me. It filled time rather than made the scene. The Raid 2 really ruined action movies for me.
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS
I saw The Fast and the Furious the summer before my freshman year of high school. I was already practicing with the freshman soccer team and I remember there were a number of kids who spent he rest of that season talking about getting their first cars and installing LED lights and NOS. They debated what was the better car—the RX-7, the Supra, the Skyline, WRX? I imagine there were similar outrageous conversations happening across the world, all due to The Fast and the Furious. Obviously that kind of car culture predated the movie but the movie gave it a mainstream window in that early part of the new millennium.
This was only my second time seeing Furious. So it’s been a while. It was a lot better than I remember. And made me pretty nostalgic for this kind of filmmaking. There’s something so 90s and early-00s about it that just feels right to me. Especially when compared to modern blockbuster sensibilities. It’s more cinematic. More movie-like. As silly as the story can be, the filmmaking has an edge rather than simply being a studio painting by numbers.
Vin Diesel absolutely had that star quality about him. He jumps off the screen. Same with Paul Walker. It was sometimes really sad to see Walker in those driving scenes. I know he wasn’t the driver in the crash that claimed his life, but the crash still comes to mind over and over again. That made the movie a bit haunting.
I would have ranked The Fast and the Furious higher than I did but the ending was actually pretty hilariously stupid. I know they probably had sequels in mind. But they don’t wrap up a single storyline. Well, only the “I owe you a 10-second car” story. That’s it. Which is pretty outrageous and hilarious. We don’t see Brian and Vince interact after Brian saves Vince. We don’t get closure with Brian and Mia. We barely get Dom and Brian talking about Brian being a cop. We don’t see the aftermath of Jesse. Nothing with Johnny Tran. How the FBI responds to Dom getting away and Brian.
Since Dom and Brian were the emotional core of the movie, ending with that last shared moment between them makes sense. It feels right. So when the movie ends, you’re like, “Oh, okay. Sure.” But spend even 5 seconds thinking about all the stuff they failed to address and it’s just comical. So because of that, the movie drops a number of ranks. But, still, good movie.
The Wailing is just such a well done movie. It blends comedy and horror in a unique and dynamic way that never makes the movie feel silly or tongue-in-cheek. Instead, it’s done to characterize the bumbling nature of its protagonist, Jong-goo. Which is a huge part of the story. What happens when your average, not-heroic person is put into an overwhelming situation where they have to make life and death decisions? It doesn’t go well. Ultimately, The Wailing explores the nature of tragedy and our sense of control when coming face to face with tragic circumstances. Really, it’s the false idea of control. We think there’s something we can say or do to stop what’s coming. But there often isn’t. That’s a super bleak reading of the film. Others will definitely argue that there’s a somewhat more positive interpretation of choice and faith. But the writer and director, Na Hong-jin, mentioned that he wrote the movie after losing a few loved ones in a short period, none by natural causes. And it caused him to question religion and hope and the world itself. I think The Wailing is the most negative distillation of that period of his life. One that isn’t hopeful or empowered but bitter and nihilistic.
As sad as that sounds, I don’t view it as entirely negative. I lost my dad when I was 20. My mom when I was 25. Both to cancer. It was awful. Almost two decades later, it’s still awful. But there are more dimensions to it. There was the support of friends and family. There was and is a deeper appreciation for life and the people still in my life. It shapes and reshapes you. In ways both bad and good. You survive and you learn and develop a complicated relationship with grief that does suck but also sparks and energizes in strange and unique ways. To see a movie like The Wailing so purely capture the darkest side of that experience is in some ways cathartic and lets you feel seen. Connected. And it reminds you that as bad as things were, they’re hopefully not that anymore. There isn’t a demon in a cave that hunts you, your loved ones, your community.
I just find The Wailing incredibly powerful and one-of-a-kind in its commentary.
I actually saw Under the Skin at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013. It had a ton of hype. I felt pretty lucky to get a ticket. Then I hated it. For years, I talked badly about Under the Skin. Boring. Hollow. Overpraised. Overrated. But in 2021, Travis and I decided to put together an explanation for the website. That meant re-watching it for the first time in 8 years. I was not excited. But it was my job. You know? I remembered it being pretty basic. So how much work would we really need to do?
My goodness was I wrong. Second viewing had me liking the movie. Third viewing had me understanding it. By the time we finished the article, I was ready to herald the greatness of Under the Skin. This was my fourth formal viewing. And I love Under the Skin even more.
What gets me is that Under the Skin is essentially from the perspective of Jaws or Michael Myers. The woman is a monster, just like them. Except over the course of the film, she comes to cherish the people she’s supposed to hunt and trap and turn into alien food. She rejects being a monster and embraces the fact she looks human so tries to be human. As negative and ugly as most of Under the Skin is, there’s such a beauty in how the film sees people. And how it elevates and glorifies these very basic non-special folks. There’s that tremendously dark scene where the woman’s at the beach and a woman swims out to save her dog and the husband swims out to save the woman and a stranger swims out to help. All of them drown. Leaving a baby on the shore. It’s awful. Completely tragic. But it says something about the depth of our ability to throw away logic and survival instincts in order to save someone we love or don’t even know. Like we get why the husband goes after his wife. Yet the stranger dives in, too. Just to help. And what’s the woman do? Bonk him on the head with a rock and drag him to her van and back to the magic alien human-to-food machine.
As much as Under the Skin focuses on the loveliness of humanity, it can’t escape the other side of the coin. Just like the woman preyed on people, there are humans who do the same. This sense of danger has a few pings throughout the film. Like when the kids surround the van and try to break in. It comes to a head in the woods, at the end, when the man attacks ScarJo. It kills me that he talks to her the way she talked to all the men in the first hour of the film. Seemingly sweet and innocent. Asking casual questions, trying to get the person to reveal if they’re alone or not, expected somewhere or not, etc. That the woman comes face to face with her literal face, what she really is, and this man that embodies the predatory nature of who she had been—it’s incredible.
For years now, I’ve heard people say how great Your Name is. Since 2019, it’s been one of the most popular articles on our website. But it took me this long to finally watch it. Gotta say, I wasn’t disappointed. There are some gorgeous visuals. Great characters. Emotional journey. Twists and turns. One thing I love about anime is that they aren’t scared to embrace the time skip. Of course it happens in Western cinema and TV. But maybe not as often as it should? That’s the thing about anime, though, since it’s animated, you don’t have to worry about aging actors up or recasting. That gives the medium a lot more freedom. This series called Gurren Lagann is probably my favorite example of the time skip.
So much of Your Name is about how Taki and Mitsuha affect one another. Especially at such a formative age. It makes sense to jump forward and see some longer-term results of the experience they shared five years earlier. That was cool to me and one of the most exciting parts of the story.
The thing that jumped out to me the most is how Your Name looks at the relationship to natural disasters. Every country deals with natural disasters in some shape or form. But Japan has had so many noteworthy incidents that there’s something incredibly meaningful in a story that explores the idea of going back in time to stop one from claiming 500 lives. I just kept thinking about how much differently Your Name must hit for someone from the Tōhoko region who lived through the earthquake and tsunami from 2011. Versus me from Ohio who is luckily enough to have never experienced anything like that. With Your Name essentially telling the younger generation that they have the power to do something about the environment and to have a positive impact—it’s a great message told through an emotional, endearing journey.
The main negatives for me have to do with some of the subplots feeling a little undercooked and needing to be a bit generous with the suspension of disbelief when it comes to the whole body switching situation and how friends and family responded to it. Not to mention Mitsuha and Taki somehow never looking at the calendar. Nothing’s so egregious that it’s a major sticking point for me. Just a number of little things that ultimately cause me, someone who is particular about such things, to rank it a little lower than maybe other people would. Though I completely get why people adore it. It deserves the love.
When I first saw the trailer for Polite Society, I knew it was going to be good. There was just something about it that felt confident and assured and smart. Thankfully, the intuition proved accurate. Polite Society is a blast. It has some of the tone and attitude of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, bits of Superbad, and Everything Everywhere All At Once. It’s endearing, dramatic, hilarious. It’s like everyone who was involved just understood how to make consistently great and charming decisions. Very happy with my experience and will recommend it to pretty much everyone.
“But, Chris, if you’re gushing this much, why isn’t it higher?” Good question! I’ve said it before and I’lll say it again—my deciding factors tend to be scope and scale. As high quality as Polite Society is, it’s still a bit contained. To be clear, this is just my personal taste. Others won’t care that it’s “contained” and will look at the charm, the heart, and the entertainment value and score it 10,000. I get that. I appreciate that. Polite Society will be many peoples’ favorite movie of 2023. For good reason. It’s just a little lower on mine.
And we should take a moment to shout out both Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya. Both were compelling and magnetic. I’m now a huge fan of each. And a big congratulations to Nida Manzoor. What a first feature film. Whatever her next movie is, I’m there, opening weekend. Oh, hell, actually, I can’t not also praise Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri. They elevated every single scene they were in and really played well off of Kansara. Like every time the film cut to them for a reaction, I was so excited to hear what they’d say and how Priya would respond. Great great great job.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie was fun. Not as good as Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. But better than Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel. I think I maybe even liked it more than Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers. It’s for kids but it’s not all that childish. The caged glow-y thing that says all the grim, melancholic stuff was amazing. Seth Rogen showed up and showed out as Donkey Kong. Peach was dynamic and cool. I liked the twist of making Luigi the damsel in distress, especially because CPU Luigi always screwed me over in Mario Party so watching him have the worst time of any main character was very satisfying for me.
What’s tripping me up is that at no point did Mario sound like Chris Pratt to me. Same thing with Keegan-Michael Key as Toad. It’s honestly kind of freaky that they could make their character voices that distinct. Luigi sounded exactly like Charlie. DK exactly like Seth. Peach exactly like Anya. But Mario and Toad were on another level. Jack Black, too! I kept waiting for the usually Jack Black lilts and deliveries. Nope. None of that.
And the after credit scene of Yoshi? I’ll pre-order my take for the sequel right now. Yoshi is the best.
The one thing I expected that Mario Bros. didn’t do was have a moment that went full pixel. But I did appreciate the moments where it went profile to make the characters look like they were moving on a 2D plane. The profile shot is one of my favorite things in cinema and I think it’s very very very very under utilized. First time I remember being impressed by it was in Pan’s Labyrinth, when the Captain mercs the doctor and it’s that wide profile shot of the doctor walking away, getting hit, staggering, falling. The profile makes for such a striking perspective. Leave it to Super Mario Bros. to have one of the best uses of the shot in a long time.
This was my second time seeing John Wick. It’s one I missed in theaters but caught a year or so later after it had gained a bunch of hype. Back then, I went in with pretty lofty expectations. It didn’t help that The Raid 2 came out in 2014 and is, I think, a top-5 all-time action movie. I could talk for hours about The Raid 2 and how amazing it is. When I finally saw John Wick and it was not as epic as Raid 2, nor did it have the insane set pieces of Raid 2, I was disappointed. In comparison, Wick was very tame.
But it’s been 8 years. This second watch was a lot more fair, I think, as I was just enjoying John Wick for what it was rather than pitting it against another film. The action was a bit more dynamic than I remembered. The characterization of John Wick was cooler than I remembered. The sequence at the end where he’s in the car and tearing around everyone was pretty awesome. Demon energy. There are still some goofy things like the whole assassin hotel. It’s one of those things that I get while other people think it’s cool but it’s silly to me. The idea that there are all these assassins and they have this code and a hotel and it’s all so serious yet cool yet mythological yet performative? Eh. I like the more grounded aspects of John Wick rather than the comic book stuff. I’m sure the sequels lean more into the fantastic world of assassins so maybe I’ll come to appreciate it. But I need to watch the sequels first.
Regardless of what small complaints I have, I get why John Wick is considered a modern action classic. It makes a lot of smart choices. Is fun. And well filmed.
Beau is Afraid will be pretty divisive. Even walking out of the advanced screening to my car, I heard people praising it and others enraged by it and even more simply befuddled into apathy. Me? Chris is impressed.
I love Brazil by Terry Gilliam. A Kafkaesque future dystopia where one guy ends up crushed by the system. I love Weekend by Jean-Luc Godard. An insane French New Wave film that gets into the thin morality of civilization and how easy it is for decorum to cease to exist. I love Mulholland Drive by David Lynch. Another outrageous film. It tears apart the idea of the Hollywood dream and shows how ruinous it can be for someone’s mind, body, and soul.
I feel like Ari Aster also has to love these movies and that Beau is Afraid is the closest thing American cinema has had to Brazil, Weekend, and Mulholland Drive in decades. Except Beau is Afraid is grander than all of them. More audacious. And maybe slightly more flawed? But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I’m actually really happy Aster went with something this ambitious. Hereditary was daring but ultimately a pretty small movie. Midsommar scaled up a bit but was still quite contained in terms of locations, cast, events, etc. Both are genre films that cleave close to expected narrative beats. Beau is Afraid is Aster leaving the safety of genre and getting into the endless jungle of multi-dimensional fiction. It’s intense. It’s hilarious. Scary. Confounding. Long. But such an immense commentary on modern society and guilt and grief.
Beau‘s 3-hour runtime has me thinking about Babylon (also 3 hours) and Damien Chazelle’s focus on capturing what was. The distant but still relevant past of Hollywood. An era that’s shaped so much of our modern world. At the end, Chazelle does bridge the gap between then and now. Which finally adds a timeless quality to what we saw. It becomes a pattern that Hollywood will repeat rather than simply a history lesson. Even then, though, it’s still about back then. There’s a very different energy to Beau is Afraid. Instead of “then” and specifically Hollywood. It’s now and the entire world. A bleak and terrifying world. Beau has good reason to be afraid. And Aster suggests, quite emphatically, that maybe we all do.
You can view that as demoralizing or cynical. But I actually think there’s something quite beautiful about it? In the sense that by being able to identify with Beau, we might not feel so alone or scared? Because his journey is so hyperbolic and exaggerated, it makes the regular world feel a bit less dramatic in comparison. It reminds us there’s still hope. We’re not as weighted down as Beau. Not as frazzled, hopeless, or damaged. We still have a chance to be okay. To row, row, row our boat through the storm.
I had no idea what to expect. This is the last weekend Scream 6 is in theaters and I haven’t heard anyone say anything about it. Good or bad. No news seemed like bad news so my expectations were very very low. In preparation for Scream 6, I spent the last week watching every Scream. I saw the first one when I was kid, after it came out on VHS. Yeah, VHS. 1997. I never saw the others because they looked kind of cheap? Schlocky? But I’ve thought highly of the original Scream since day one. Now that I’ve gone through the whole franchise…yeah. I mean, I loved Scream 2 more than Scream. So that was nice to find out. But 3, 4, and 5 left me kind of sad. They all had good ideas and strong moments. It just didn’t feel like they ever came together.
But Scream 6. Wow. The subversion! The opening scene was awesome. There were some serious set pieces in this. A much stronger sense of micro-narrative and how powerful it is to chain them together. The opening date. The scene back at the apartment. The convenience store. The second apartment showdown. The Gale sequence. Stellar micro-narrative after stellar micro-narrative.
Cast was great. Visuals were great. The idea of turning Scream into a full-blown bigger budget franchise…worked. Like, it really worked. It’s a long way from a small-time horror film. But there are so many of those these days. What we don’t have is a lot of big budget terrifiers. This was creative, cool, thrilling. I was into everything it was doing.
The only issue I kind of had was the logic of the Ghostfaces. Like…that’s a lot of suspension of disbelief lol. All of them are murderous psychos? To be fair, though, that’s kind of the theme of Sam’s story. How much does family influence you? Do you have to be like them? Or can you be independent? Which also ties in with the drama between Sam and Tara. Okay. I’m talking myself into it.
I’m excitedly looking forward to Scream VII.
The best way I can describe how I feel about this re-quel of Scream is that it was inoffensive. With Scream 3 and Scream 4, I was legitimately frustrated with the writing. Things were kind of dumb or kind of boring or cheesy. Scream 2022 didn’t really have those lows. Which should be good. That should have me writing something glowing that involves the words “a return to form”. But. I’m not writing that because Scream 2022 lacked a pulse. As annoying as 3 and 4 were, they had moments that I genuinely thought were clever or dynamic. This 2022 version had a higher floor but a much lower ceiling. It’s like the cinematic equivalent of someone reading a prepared statement versus speaking off the cuff. There are some amazing prepared statements. But they don’t quite have that special energy of someone without a script.
Specifically, I’m thinking about the beginning and end of Scream 4. Those sequences really stood out to me. While 2022 really only had the hand sanitizer + stove combo. Oh, and the moment where Mindy mirrors Randy on the couch and it’s like Randy’s talking to Mindy. That was cool. Just too little, too late.
It is also exhausting to, once again, be so blatantly reliant on movie logic. This is the third Scream where the killers want to make a movie. Knock it off. Find a new slant. Like I said in my review of Scream 4, the cool thing about the first Scream was the way in which the movie stuff inadvertently played out in “reality”. The movie was self-aware about it but most of the characters weren’t. Ever since Scream 3, they’ve made the characters hip to it. It becomes goofy. I think you can do the “make a movie” thing once and really lean into it. But three times? Three times?
I’m also not sure how much I buy Richie and Amber as Ghostface. Richie is so f***ing tall. He’s 6’1″. And Amber is 5’3″. I guess Amber could have been wearing thick soled shoes/boots? Maybe Richie was never Ghostface? But then that’s a ton of work that Amber had to do on her own. I know this is nitpick-y. It’s just one of those things where you’re supposed to suspend disbelief and the more I think about it the more difficult it’s becoming to do that.
Anyway. Okay movie. Interesting enough. Missing something.
I loved the opening sequence. It’s the kind of insane, surreal meta stuff that I love. Right out of a Borges short story. Then it got way less interesting. I didn’t find any of the remake commentary the least bit compelling. In fact, it was actively infuriating to me that the characters were just buying into the idea that everything had to follow movie rules. In the original Scream, the movie stuff is pretty limited to just Randy; it’s ironic the way in which the “real” world of the film plays out movie tropes. In Scream 2, it’s expanded on but not a logic-warping thing. Even in Scream 3, the “it’s a movie stuff” is at least grounded in the director being the killer.
But Scream 4, it’s just extremely stupid to me that Gale thinks by talking to kids about cinema that she’ll unlock some major secret. Or when Hayden Panettiere answers the question right and thinks she’s defeated Ghostface so runs outside to untie the long haired kid. Maybe you can make an argument in favor of that choice, specifically through a frame of meta commentary. But that won’t change the fact that it takes me out of the film when characters are so idiotic. Maybe if it felt earned? Or some kind of meaningful payoff? Like, okay, the character was prideful about her movie knowledge and that ended up being her fatal flaw. So?
And then the motivation Jill and Charlie have also felt half-baked to me. It’s not a bad idea. But like with Scream 3, I don’t think it’s developed enough. Oh, and the kills were kind of boring.
With all that said, the last 10 minutes was pretty good. They had more of the manic energy that was there at the very beginning. So I don’t think Scream 4 is without merit and I get why it would appeal to some people. There’s just so much wasted potential.
I really liked Scream 2 so I had pretty high hopes for Scream 3. Unfortunately, Scream 3 didn’t hit the same way. It felt cheesier? Cheaper? I was surprised to see the budget for 2 was $24 million and 3 was $40 million. Maybe they spent all the money on secret tunnels? That actually was my favorite part. The final act reminded me of a Scooby-Doo episode. I didn’t like how Gale and Dewey had the same exact arc as the first two films. The reveal of a long lost brother was interesting but it didn’t strike me as particularly meaningful. It embodies some of the “the past comes back to bite you” themes. But do we really care about that? Scream 2 was just so much more interesting to me as a twist on the college film and the difference in disposition between high school and college and how Sidney navigates growing up through the lens of someone who has dealt with such hardships.
With Scream 3, you kind of get the notion of her living as an adult but the past invading the life she has. But we really don’t spend that much time with Sidney. The life she’s built or hasn’t built (out of fear) isn’t examined, explored, challenged. She’s more of a MacGuffin than main character. You can make that work. Absolutely. I just don’t think Scream 3 succeeded in making it work.
I saw Air today at a press screening and it has me really curious what public reaction will be. We’re about a week out from release. On the one hand, it’s pretty fun. I was laughing throughout. And you can tell that Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, and Ben Affleck had a lot of fun. Viola Davis also kind of steals every scene she’s in. The 80s nostalgia is intense. In a good way. Air leaned into the era and had a lot of cool B-roll that took my down memory lane. And the big crusade to bring Michael Jordan to Nike is a simple yet effective through line. Chasing something is a huge part of the allure of sports movies. Even though Air doesn’t feature any athletics, it’s still in that world. It feels like a nice next-entry into the genre of films like Moneyball, Draft Day, Hustle, Miracle. While also having some of that Big Short energy.
The biggest thing that will probably bother people is Michael Jordan. Specifically, the lack of Michael Jordan. I’d love to know what happened. But Jordan’s never actually shown on screen. You see his torso and limbs. He says one or two lines. That’s it. When he’s on screen, it’s the edge of the screen. When the Jordan family shows up at Converse, I’m pretty sure the executives only greet mom and dad. It’s weird. Did Jordan want to charge for use of his image and Affleck and team didn’t want to pay? Wikipedia says Jordan gave his blessing for the project. Maybe he didn’t want anyone to play him? Or maybe the team behind the film decided Jordan was way too recognizable and casting someone to be him would be too hard? Maybe they the Jordan character would be a distraction and this allowed the audience to really focus on the story that was being told? Whatever the reason, it was a bit strange. Like if Jurassic Park just never had dinosaurs on screen. Or Jaws never showed the shark. Or The King’s Speech didn’t let us hear the king give the speech. It’s kind of like Waiting for Godot.
I did like it. It’s just funny to me how much it feels like an indie project rather than an Amazon Studio film that’s produced by Affleck, Damon, Bateman, and others. Air‘s also the rare movie that doesn’t have much of a nadir. It doesn’t force some giant low point right before the characters succeed. I appreciated that. Though the use of music was insane. Any time the story had 5 seconds to breathe, there was some popular 80s song thrown in. Usually the lyrics had something to do with the emotional charge of what was happening. I’m just not a fan of a lot of pop music in movies. One or two moments, sure. But when it’s part of every transition, it’s a bit much.
I read Shoe Knight a few years ago and was really impressed by the story of Nike and Phil Knight. So it was cool to see a chapter of that brought to the big screen. The nostalgia Air provides, especially for fans of Nike, Jordan, and Jordans, is unique and special. It’s insight into a pivotal moment in history that’s shaped modern culture in a major way. So whatever flaws it has, the cast, subject matter, and overall charm win the day.
This was actually my first time ever watching Scream 2. I’ve seen the original 4-5 times? But was never interested in the sequels. I guess I didn’t expect them to be interesting? I was very wrong to doubt Wes Craven. I mean, I still haven’t seen 3 or 4. But Scream 2 was awesome. I liked it more the original. At least on initial watch. Maybe I’ll cool on that stance. It’s just that the second movie has to go bigger in scope and scale. And I’m someone who wants that. So even if Scream 2 is somewhat derivative of Scream, I’m okay with that. Especially because Wes Craven was aware of it and made that part of the film’s meta commentary. I also love that it doubled down on the media angle. Gale going from the annoying reporter to the subject reporters are annoying—that’s an awesome choice. It’s the kind of artistic call that earns my respect. Actually, I need to stop right here and acknowledge Kevin Williamson. He’s the originator of the entire world and wrote the scripts for all 6 movies. So as much as we all praise Craven, we need to appreciate the writers.
The cast for Scream 2 was also pretty wild. I had no idea so many up-and-coming talents were in the film. Whoever was in charge of casting had a great eye.
While the ending of Scream left me a bit disappointed. The end of Scream 2 put a smile on my face. The song choice and zoom out are so cheesy. Absolutely silly. In a non-meta movie, I’d be furious and complaining. But with how sarcastic Scream 2 is, it feels like the end is just mocking the typical college rom-com. The rock music. The zoom out to show the campus. That kind of wry closing is what I kind of expected but don’t think we got in Scream.
My favorite part was definitely how Scream 2 used the Greek stage play. I hope Sidney cutting the ropes to drop various things on Debbie Salt was some kind of reference to the classic interpretation of Deus Ex Machina. I also loved that in the first few minutes I thought how it seemed they were having Sidney channel Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, then in the film class one of the first references is to Aliens.
I was too young to see Scream in theaters, but I remember the trailers for it and the excitement around it. I probably saw it for the first time when it came out on VHS or was on HBO. Like most people, the opening scene completely blew me away. As a kid, my reaction was more visceral. Almost 20 years later, I can admire the mechanics of the scene. I know it’s not a groundbreaking assessment, but Scream is just such a nuanced, interesting, masterful film. Wes Craven was way ahead of his time in exploring and critiquing media and true crime reporting. To have the film be both a deconstruction of the entire horror genre while still working as a sharp satire of modern society—brilliant.
It was interesting to watch this after recently re-watching Die Hard. I love Die Hard, but it was finally feeling a bit old to me. Scream still felt fresh. With that said, I have two mostly petty critiques. First, as much as I love the opening scene, I can’t really imagine Billy or Stu having that conversation with Drew Barrymore. Billy makes a lot of movie references so it’s not like it’s a complete stretch. And I get that if the caller had Billy or Stu’s personality, then the mystery is gone. Still. Something about it felt off. Second, is that the movie ended kind of anti-climactically. Gale starts reporting. Camera zooms out, pans to the distance. Fade to black. It didn’t feel like a shot that mattered? With how meticulous Scream was, the end just kind of jarred me. Is there something there that I’m missing? Wasn’t there something better to do? I get this won’t bother 99.99% of people. For some reason, it stood out to me.
Of all the Oscar movies I’ve watched for 2022, this was probably the most overhyped. It’s good. Great performances. Strong cinematography. Emotional. I just kind of expected…more? It made a lot of sense when I found out The Whale is based on a play. It felt like a play. That’s not inherently a bad thing. There are definitely movies based on plays that I really like. Like Phantom of the Opera (2004), or The Ides of March, 12 Angry Men, Amadeus. I can see the stage inspiration in those and it doesn’t bother me. But for some reason The Whale just really really really had that vibe of theater. Especially with some of the line deliveries. It kept taking me out of the movie.
It also reminded me a lot of The Wrestler. But not as dynamic. Guy who is stuck in his ways, with heart trouble, trying to reconnect with his daughter, but won’t seek help and goes out on his own terms after kind of winning people over and getting a degree of closure. Again, not inherently a bad thing. But that aspect of derivation within a director’s own filmography isn’t usually something I’m a fan of.
Brendan Fraser, terrific job. He sold that performance. I get why he won the Oscar, though I still see the argument for Austin Butler.
There’s also an intense claustrophobia to The Whale. 95% of the movie happens in Charlie’s house. With the other 5% on his front porch. I can see the argument for that. The impact such confinement has on the viewer. But I’m a big proponent of contrast and push-pull in narrative. So if you’re going to stay in that interior, I think there should be a big swing the other way, at some point. Even if, at the very end, it’s just an extreme wide shot of the house in the middle of Idaho and we finally get a sense of where we are, where Charlie was, where all this took place, and how small the story feels in comparison to that expanse. So I came away from The Whale moved by the story it told but a bit unsatisfied.
I wanted to be the biggest fan of 65. Dinosaur movies are awesome and we don’t get enough of them. You would think after Jurassic Park that there would be a run of dinosaur movies like the 2000s run of zombie movies. Alas. So here I’ve just been waiting DECADES for another competent dinosaur film. So when the trailer for 65 came out, I was overjoyed.
Unfortunately, 65 did not win me over. It did not come close to winning me over. It’s a strange amalgamation of Gravity, Predator, Jurassic Park, and Big Daddy. One second, Adam Driver and Ariana Greenblatt are running for their lives from marauding, carnivorous dinosaurs. The next, they’re in the middle of a 90s family dramedy. I wish 65 would have picked a lane and really committed. Like you don’t get the emotional journey of Gravity, you get a mention of grief. Predator gives you a game of cat and mouse. 65 is just a series of hollow moments with throwaway dinosaurs. Jurassic Park makes the dinosaurs feel like a spectacle. In 65 they’re merely obstacles (though if you want to make an argument they symbolize grief, go ahead). Big Daddy gives you room for the parent-child dynamic to develop and become meaningful over a period of time. 65 is less than a day.
It was just a very awkward movie. Some good ideas. Some great CGI. But a lot of narrative decisions that should have never made it through the editing process.
My wait for the next great dinosaur movies continues.
Insomnia is a movie I’ve meant to watch for years. It was nice to finally cross it off the list. Actually, I had completely forgotten it was a Christopher Nolan film until the opening credits. That means Following is now the only Nolan film I haven’t watched. My relationship with Nolan is such a mixed bag. I was a big fan of Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception. But post-Inception I’ve struggled to enjoy his work the way everyone else does. There are always great ideas but I disagree with a lot of his choices. The spectacle is so immense but I feel like the heart is more mechanical than natural.
So Insomnia was pretty refreshing. It was nice to get back to a version of Nolan who wasn’t so caught up in filmmaking pageantry and was a bit more patient and confined. I think he did a pretty awesome job of capturing a sense of dreaminess and emphasizing the setting. The story itself reminds me of Seven mashed up with Silence of the Lambs. I don’t think Insomnia is anywhere near as good as those movies but that’s okay. Not everything has to be. There’s still enough that’s unique to Insomnia. I was engaged in the story and characters and how it externalized Dormer’s internal conflict. I kind of wonder if working on this film maybe inspired a lot of the themes found in The Dark Knight. The line “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain” comes to mind as it kind of sums up Dormer’s character arc.
This is also the first time in a while that I’ve watched a Robin Williams movie. Kid me, growing up in the 90s, loved Robin Williams. But as an adult I haven’t revisited a lot of his movies. I think the last one was Good Will Hunting back in 2018 or 2019. So there was a huge surge of nostalgia, joy, and sadness at Williams and his performance. I remember when Insomnia and One Hour Photo came out and there was all this talk about whether or not Williams could or should play these roles. That he did such a great job was just a reminder of how talented he was and what a shame it is that he’s gone.
Pacino also sold being a sleepy f***. His facial expressions were cracking me up.
What’s holding the movie back for me is that Insomnia struck me as a bit too small. Especially when I’m comparing it to Seven and Silence of the Lambs, two movies that do such a great job of world building and character development. It also didn’t have a scene that really soared. Like I’m not huge on Mystic River, but it’s hard to deny that Mystic River has a few moments that really pop. If Insomnia had even a single one, I’d probably rank it higher. Like the “Am I the bad guy?” moment in Falling Down is the reason why Falling Down is over Insomnia and a number of other movies.Watch on:
I love the Creed franchise. The first film had such a high hurdle to clear and did so. Then the second Creed had to live up to the hype of the first one. And, once again, did. So I went in to Creed III in a bit of a forgiving mood. Just entertain me. That’s all I wanted. Thankfully, I was very entertained. I appreciated the flourish that Michael B. Jordan brought as a director. There were subtle things with blocking and longer shots and, of course, the much-discussed anime inspiration for the fights. They added some vitality to the film and prevented it from falling into stale, efficiency filmmaking. That made me happy.
But the real star of the show was Jonathan Majors. Dude is on another level. He made everyone in Quantumania seem silly and stole every scene. Jordan and Tessa Thompson hold their own with Majors, but Majors is just so incredibly charismatic. I haven’t been this excited about the potential of an actor for a number of years. Maybe since I saw Thompson in Dear White People at Sundance in 2014.
I do think Creed III was missing one other gear. It was patient and thorough for the first two acts and really built up the character dynamics. But the last act felt rushed. The decision to fight. The training. The fight itself. Some of the breakthroughs Adonis had also came off a little less earned than the previous films. Also, the characterization for Dame fell off. I think the better version of Creed III spends more time with a post-championship Dame and how he’s adjusting and really leans into the mess of emotions he had to be feeling. There’s some 2.5 hour cut of this film that’s amazing. As is, it’s just pretty good. I could even see a version of the story where Dame beats Adonis and the 4th movie is Adonis figuring out what it takes to beat Dame.
Regardless, a strong entry into the franchise. Even a fitting end, if it is the end.Watch on:
Cocaine Bear is exactly what you think it will be. No more. No less. It’s of a much higher quality than Sharknado. So the floor here is pretty good. I’d say I liked it better than Snakes on a Plane? Really, Cocaine Bear is the exact experience I wanted from M3GAN but didn’t get. So it was nice to finally have some campy, ridiculous fun. Weirdly, I keep thinking about Cocaine Bear as kind of a Bullet Train-lite. Broad cast of characters stuck in the same location and forced to interact with some stylization and a wild conceit. It’s just not as bombastic or dynamic as Bullet Train. For better and for worse. Better in the sense that Cocaine Bear isn’t overreaching. It’s a lot more efficient. Worse in that you have the sense it could have done a bit more. Cocaine Bear kind of peaks with the Margo Martindale subplot. It’s never quite as creative or interesting after that finishes.
One reason I liked this movie is that I could just imagine Elizabeth Banks laughing loudly at a bunch of different moments. Cocaine Bear feels very on brand for her. Alden Ehrenreich definitely needs to be in more things. He’s very watchable. It’s always nice to see O’Shea Jackson Jr., too. As much as Cocaine Bear wants us to care about Keri Russell and her daughter, O’Shea’s kind of the heart of the film. Oh, and Brooklyn Prince seems extremely talented. Her and Christian Convery were scene stealers.
It was a bit strange that by the end of the movie we’re supposed to root for the bear. I mean, I did. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just kind of like if at the end of Jaws suddenly the shark were the hero. A bit of a tonal clash. But Cocaine Bear is weird enough that it kind of works. Especially because it’s such a Popeye moment.Watch on:
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
I had a hard time ranking All Quiet on the Western Front. I knew it was going near the top, the question was how high? I think it’s probably the most impressive movie I’ve seen in a while? One of the ways I know a movie is standing out is that I find myself thinking “How did they film this?” over and over again. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s great. So I think it’s fair to say that All Quiet on the Western Front is a masterpiece of the war genre. The scope, scale, the cinematography. The performances. The emotion. The themes. It scores 10s across the board. It’s a statement piece. Everyone involved in making it brought something beyond their A-game. Lighting. Costumes. Sets. Makeup. Everything. I LOVED 1917 and this makes 1917 seem sweet in comparison. It makes Dunkirk feel like a Made-for-TV movie.
So why was I hesitating? Well, because, it’s a realistic war movie. And realistic war movies tend to all hit the same notes. As impressive as All Quiet is, is it anything we haven’t seen before? Even if it’s a superior example of the genre? How much better or different is it than 1917, Dunkirk, Saving Private Ryan, Paths of Glory, etc. etc. etc. Is it telling me something I don’t already know?
Compare that to Triangle of Sadness. Triangle isn’t as big and loud as All Quiet, but it’s still pretty big and has a lot to say about economic systems and power structures. And says those things in new and interesting ways.
Then Avatar: The Way of Water was impressive in a very different way. Its technical achievements were unbelievable. Especially watching 48 FPS. Like All Quiet, the story isn’t groundbreaking but It is effective.
Ultimately, I chose to put All Quiet over those films because I have that sense that it’s the definitive king of its genre. While Triangle and Way of Water are merely fantastic entries in their respective genres. Feel free to tell me what war movie you’d rank higher than All Quiet. In case you’re curious, I don’t quite consider Apocalypse Now a war movie. I know it’s set during a war and looks at the effects of war, but I think the central conceit is more about identity and existentialism, with war being a means to get at that conversation rather than the purpose.Watch on:
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA
I liked Quantumania better than Thor: Love and Thunder and maybe better than Multiverse of Madness? But those are two very low bars. Honestly, if Quantumania was just Jonathan Majors talking for 2 hours, it would be the best movie of 2023. But since it’s not just Jonathan Majors talking, it’s not the best movie of 2023.
Majors was in an entirely different movie than everyone else. It was funny. Because in Infinity War, I felt like Thanos had such “I’m him” energy that all the other characters were small in comparison. It was awesome. Exactly what you want from the big bad. With Quantumania, it’s not that Kang is so much more intimidating than everyone else. It’s that Jonathan Majors out-acts the rest of the cast. Don’t get me wrong—they were all great. But they didn’t have that it-factor Majors brought to his scenes.
So I had fun with the characters. Even poor Corey Stoll as M.O.D.O.K. But f***ing hell. The writing was so bad. There’s no gravity to anything. The plot just rolls out like it’s on an assembly line. Things happen when they need to happen and sometimes bizarre things happen for no real reason other than to add a sense of flavor. It’s less a story than it is a collection of distractions that amount to almost nothing. The only semblance of character journey is Cassie having a coming of age subplot. Hank gets to hang out with ants. Janet reveals she has a lot of guilt. Hope energy blasts. Scott loves his daughter. What a story…
I genuinely loved the MCU from Iron Man through Endgame. It wasn’t always perfect. It had missteps. Bad movies. But there was a stretch where I really thought they had figured out the perfect tone of mostly serious with some fun thrown in and some thoughtful stories. But Phase 4 was like watching the Titanic hit the iceberg. There’s been such a shift to “Let’s have fun and not worry too much about what’s happening and why!” that I legitimately am shaking my head thinking about how dumb the MCU has become. Phase 5 isn’t starting any better. Hopefully Guardians Vol. 3 is less painful.
OH! JUST LET PEOPLE WEAR HELMETS AND MASKS. My god. If you take a drink every time someone puts their mask/helmet on then takes it off within 20 seconds, you’d be in the hospital. It’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever witnessed. If it’s supposed to be meta humor, it didn’t land that way. And if it wasn’t supposed to be meta humor, is there no one to say: “Hey, maybe this happens a bit too much?” I’ll do it. Kevin Feige, hire me. I’ll be the one to say, “No. Stop that. Do better.”Watch on:
NO TIME TO DIE
There were stretches where I really enjoyed No Time to Die. But that had more to do with Daniel Craig than the story or action. He elevates the material so much. The core cast is very likable. But I’ll forever be sad and a bit bitter that none of Craig’s Bond films ever surpassed Casino Royale. I still remember seeing Royale opening weekend. I was legitimately blown away and so hopeful for what would come next. Then we got Quantum of Solace. Yuck. Skyfall had flashes of that Casino Royale spirit but I wasn’t quite as high on the second half as the first. Then Spectre was a mess. All the patience and craftsmanship that went into Casino Royale and Skyfall went right out the window in order to appeal to the more traditional Bond audience.
No Time to Die is closer to Spectre than it is to Skyfall. I started the movie thinking it was still Sam Mendes directing, but within the first few minutes I knew that wasn’t true. I didn’t expect Cary Joji Fukunaga. This is the first thing I’ve seen by him since True Detective in 2014. And…eh? True Detective had such style and tone and artistic presence. I felt that with Martin Campbell in Casino Royale and Sam Mendes definitely made his presence known in Skyfall. I didn’t get much sense of Fukunaga in No Time. Which is unfortunate.
Lastly, I kind of hate the ending. I mean, it was emotional and made me cry and I get the case for the tragic ending. I just don’t think the character deserved that. Let him go be happy. Unless you’re really leaning into the judgment aspect and Bond not deserving a normal life after all the things he’s done. Like this is the fate of 00s. This is the fate of those who traffic in death. They don’t get a happy twilight. That feels a bit more justified. As is, it struck me as kind of arbitrary. And you could even make that work. Like all it takes is one misstep on this job and you’re done for. And Bond finally made his. Something like that. A half-earned noble sacrifice is lackluster to me. I just think this movie could have be something special. Especially as a conclusion to what has been a 5-film epic journey. What we got was just aggressively okay.
It’s so weird to me that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade wrote Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre, and No Time to Die. How is the narrative quality so all over the place?Watch on:
This was first time watching Midsommar since seeing it in theaters when it came out. I definitely liked it more the second time. I think after the initial viewing, I’d have put it in the Positives category. But this bumped it up to Really Good. I know, I know. You probably think that’s too low. People really love Midsommar. I get it. Visually striking. Great performances. Weird as hell. Personally, I get a little bored by cult movies going through the same narrative progression of starting friendly then revealing the flaws and cracks before doing some crazy cult thing. So as interesting and weird as Midsommar is, it’s also pretty predictable.
What stood out to me on the second watch was how much emphasis Midsommar put on Dani’s journey through grief. She starts in a place of being completely alone, with Christian providing inadequate support. But ends in a place where she’s seen and heard. Where her pain becomes the group’s pain. The way in which Midsommar explores the idea of support is pretty amazing. And it creates a nice counterpoint to Hereditary. Hereditary was what happens when all support fails and grief takes over. While Midsommar is what does it look like to come out on the other side? The answer seems messed up when you look at Midsommar literally. But when taken symbolically, it’s far more practical. Excise the people in your life who bring negative energy. Find those who support you. Travel can help.
Despite how much I love that part of the story, there was still something missing for me. There were a lot of moments where I thought, “That’s interesting.” But none that had me speechless or enraptured. Not like Hereditary. The bear outfit was the closest one. I didn’t like how quickly that went down though. Especially because Ari Aster spends SO MUCH TIME drawing out all these other scenes. In comparison, Christian in the bear suit feels rushed. We first see the bear on the operating table at 2:16:28. Christian’s placed on the table at 2:17:07. He’s in the outfit at 2:17:16. The speech about his wicked ways is at 2:17:36. Then the fire starts at 2:18:40, after we spend some time with Ingemar and Ulf. So the whole bear thing, while cool, is 2 minutes of a 148 minute film. Great concept, could have been cooler.
That’s where I’m at with Midsommar. Great, but I wish it did more. Maybe the director’s cut is what I need to watch need? There’s one 7 minute scene on YouTube that I did not enjoy. It rehashes the drama of the old people who jumped off the rock but is with a kid about to be thrown into a river, but is weaker in almost every way (visually, narratively, acting). So that’s probably not the answer. Honestly, I kind of like the 2018 Suspiria more than Midsommar. Suspiria probably has more weaknesses and pain points, but I think the highs are a lot higher and the payoff is better. I need to re-watch that thought and see if I stand by that thought or not.Watch on:
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2
I thought Sonic 2 was an upgrade from the first Sonic. They let Jim Carrey do more. And Knuckles has always been my favorite Sonic-centric character, so his inclusion was cool. It felt similar to me to Jurassic World Dominion in that both are blockbuster-y and reliant on a lot of “movie logic” to justify some of their big scenes and move the plot along. Sometimes I find movie logic charming, like in A Goofy Movie or The Waterboy. Others times it just upsets me (see my thoughts, in the entry below this, on Jurassic World Dominion). Sonic the Hedgehog 2 walked a fine line. There were long stretches were I was kind of just not engaged. But then moments that had me laughing or had a cool visual. Plus, I find James Marsden and Tika Sumpter so damn likable. Except they’re also forced into all these moments with Sonic and it makes me mad. Which is really confusing. Because it’s like I’m happy the characters are on screen but annoyed that they were forced to be there.
Same with the use of Super Sonic. Super Sonic is awesome. Seeing it brought to life in a movie was cool. But how it happened, why it happened, and what happened all left me thinking “This could have been so much better.” Which is also how I felt about 99% of the dialogue Knuckles had. Especially at the end. It became painful. And that’s the character I want to like the most. I had a lot of emotional ups and downs while watching this. Ultimately, it came out as a bit of a wash. I could actually see myself putting it in the Flawed category, but, for now, keeping it in Neutral just because it’s at least unique enough and fun enough and I’d like a third one.Watch on:
JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION
Jurassic World Dominion is just so needlessly stupid. It’s infuriating that this franchise isn’t given the prestige treatment in terms of quality. Instead, it’s short cut after short cut. Awful scene after awful scene. Bad callback after bad callback. Sometimes this borders on the self-aware and so-dumb-it’s-interesting, like when Bryce Dallas Howard outruns an assassin velociraptor over the rooftops of Malta, or how Ian Malcolm sometimes outright mocks the movie/franchise. But for the most part, it’s just depressingly poor.
Though. I will say. It does embody a certain classic blockbuster style where you aren’t supposed to think too hard and just enjoy the madness that’s on screen. Films like that are why we have the phrase “It’s just a movie”. There’s always been a brand of cinema that was big, dumb fun. There are many people who love this style. For them, Jurassic World Dominion is probably a delight. I recognize that. I can appreciate that. But it’s not my thing. The whole subplot with the Giganotosaurus and the Tyrannosaurus is so cheap and infuriating that I can’t just enjoy it. It’s not earned. It’s not interesting. I’m embarrassed watching it because it’s so forced.
The only reason Dominion stays out of the I Hate category is because it has dinosaurs. I can never hate a movie that has dinosaurs. But the entire Jurassic World trilogy is an absolute test of what I thought was a core truth of my being. If they make a fourth one, maybe I’ll finally break. I thought I could never hate a Transformers movie. Michael Bay showed me that’s not true, though. Ugh.
We need more and better dinosaur movies. We DESERVE more and better dinosaur movies.Watch on:
It’s crazy that this was the 15th M. Night Shyamalan movie. I’ve seen 9.5 of the 15. Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, The Visit, Split, Glass, Old, Knock at the Cabin. And enough of The Last Airbender to last me a lifetime. M. Night is, in terms of quality, such a Magic 8 Ball. You shake the ball, flip it over, and the answer you get will be good, bad, or “reply hazy, try again later”. I still remember watching Unbreakable for the first time and being so absolutely floored with the craftsmanship. Especially during the early sequence on the train. Some of the camera movement was just so exquisite. All these years later, that still feels like the peak. Sometimes there are moments that recall that potential and bravado. Other times, I’m completely flabbergasted by how safe everything is.
Knock at the Cabin lands in a solid mid-to-upper tier for M. Night movies. For me. I’d put Unbreakable, The Visit, and Split in the upper tier. Then Knock at the Cabin and Sixth Sense in tier 2. Then Glass, Signs, Old, and The Village all in the tier of things that disappointed me.
With Cabin, there were a lot of great performances. It was great seeing Bautista have that kind of character and performance. Jonathan Groff is so endearing. I’m ready for Rupert Grint’s second chapter. Kristen Cui is probably getting calls from Marvel for two decades worth of movies. Everyone involved really impressed me. And M. Night was definitely being creative with the camera work and cinematography. So on a scene by scene basis, I was interested, engaged, and appreciative. I cared about the characters and their choices.
But the story left me wanting. It’s not that what we got was bad. It wasn’t. I wanted more. Everything happening at the cabin had a stage play vibe to it. Which isn’t inherently bad, though it is kind of limiting. Especially when I just believed Leonard and his horsemen from the beginning. At that point, you’re waiting around for Eric and Andrew to accept things. That drags the energy down a lot because it makes the entire middle portion nothing more than killing time. The twist on the four horsemen was nice, I thought. And I liked that it was a home invasion movie where the invaders weren’t bad or evil people and only harmed one another. There was something very humanizing about their struggle.
In so far as improvements, I think you need a secondary plot that’s more interesting than flashbacks. Or what we saw should have been cut down to the first half of the movie. The second half could explore the aftermath of the choice. There are a lot of interesting places to take it. You could go down the vision path a bit more by having Wen and/or Andrew start receiving visions. There’s also the fact that in this world there is some higher power that was going to destroy humanity. What are the implications of that? There could have been an opposing group who wanted humanity to end so was chasing down the family to eradicate them. One of them could still be hunting Andrew and Wen. Or even starting the movie with the four horsemen having their visions and coming together and all the cabin stuff being the second portion of the film. I think that version is potentially far more dynamic.
So. I’m happy that Knock at the Cabin was as interesting as it was, but it frustrates me because I think it had the potential to be much better. I’ll forever point to Cabin in the Woods as a movie that absolutely understood how escalation works and three acts and just taking things as far as you can. I wish more movies did that.Watch on:
LA LA LAND
La La Land does the thing that I hate the most in stories like this. It luxuriates in establishing the characters, building the romance, and the potential of everything. Then has a long nadir and a rushed conclusion. To put this in perspective, the last “Five Years Later” sequence takes up the final 17 minutes. We see Mia is famous now and married with a kid. Seb has his own club. Mia and her husband accidentally walk into Seb’s and Seb plays a song that shows us the life they could have had together. That dream sequence is 7 of the 17 minutes. The two share a final smile and that’s it. In the first 17 minutes? We get the opening song. Mia at her job. Her audition. Her and her roommates. Going out with her roommates. And arriving at the restaurant where Seb is playing the piano. We get such a portrait of Mia’s life at that point. At the end, it’s only a brief glimpse. Especially annoying is that such a big deal was made about her relationship with acting. Now she’s successful and famous. Is she happy with that? Is it truly everything she wanted? If it was Seb or success, would she choose success again? Or give it up for Seb if she could and the tragic thing is she can’t?
That five years later sequence needed to be 30 minutes. What we got struck me as cheap and unfair to the journey that had been established. Sure, there’s a tragic romantic quality to it and a sweetness that will charm 95% of people. But it’s also just…kind of cheesy. I think that’s my main issue with La La Land. Everything was pretty sweet but pretty idiotic. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are amazing. But, like, the idea that he was going to be perpetually touring and would never have free time? It’s ridiculous. Or that we never see her performance in whatever movie catapults her to fame and how she’s dealing with that and if she and Seb ever tried to reconnect once she got back from Paris. It’s just “She’s famous now!” Okay. Sure. Way to earn that one.
What elevates La La Land is that Damien Chazelle is a daring, impressive filmmaker and Stone and Gosling are two of the most watchable actors of this era. Those things aside, I feel like the actual story is pretty lackluster and worse than something like You’ve Got Mail. So we have these very impressive visuals and two actors at the peak of charm. But narrative that betrays them. It’s a shame.
It actually makes me appreciate Babylon a lot more. Babylon has its own flaws, still, but it corrects a lot of what frustrates me with La La Land. Whiplash is still the best, though.Watch on:
Infinity Pool is almost there. I just thought it was a little shallow. There are feints at themes around identity and self-empowerment. But I don’t think the character journey is very rewarding or cathartic. I keep thinking about Infinity Pool versus something like Neon Demon or even Brandon Cronenberg’s father’s Crimes of the Future. I think those films have similar styles but say what they want with a bit more conviction and confidence. Don’t get me wrong. I love subtext and subtly. So this isn’t a case of “I want things spelled out.” It’s that I don’t think there’s enough meat on the bone. It felt more like an hour-long episode of Black Mirror that got stretched to two hours and didn’t earn that runtime. Infinity Pool is one of many movies that I think is missing its third act.
For example, “Only through blood can you release your past” is something that’s told to James Foster a number of times. And we crescendo with him finally confronting himself. But to what end? What does releasing the past mean for him? What does he gain from it? Who does he become after doing it? Is it actually beneficial or a lie? The last few minutes of Infinity Pool just seek refuge in the implication of something meaningful. The story isn’t told. It would be like if Star Wars: A New Hope ended with the Rebel forces leaving to attack the Death Star. Or if 2001: a Space Odyssey ended with Dave shutting down HAL then seeing the alien monolith in the distance. It’s not enough. But that’s the hardest thing to do in storytelling. To go the last mile when you’ve already gone so far. That last mile is what makes all the difference.
With that said. There are really interesting concepts. And Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård are terrific. The filmmaking aesthetic also stood out to me. I got a strong sense of identity and voice. Something I don’t feel like I get enough of these days. So that was good. It just was a tad bit indulgent. The prose-like camera was really interesting for the first hour. Then grew a bit superficial/repetitive in the second hour. B roll footage presented as meaningful.
Infinity Pool gives me hope that Brandon will deliver something special. But this felt too much like someone still figuring it out.Watch on:
THE LOST CITY
I just saw the movie You People and bemoaned the recent quality of romantic comedies. So I’m probably in a place to be a bit forgiving of The Lost City. I don’t know why I didn’t expect a Sandra Bullock movie to be a romcom, but I honestly had no idea it was going to be one. That pleasant surprise combined with the recent disappointment in You People and I was kind of charmed. It’s far from perfect. And takes a huge suspension of disbelief. But I love Sandra. I love Channing. For me, the positives outweighed the negatives.
I will say, the ending is outrageous. It goes from the duo being rescued to them being on an island in Hawaii. We’re told that it’s the end of a book tour. Everyone’s happy. Loretta and and Alan share a moment. Share what seems to be their first kiss. And it seems like the beginning of a nice new chapter. Except. Except. Except. The book tour is for Loretta’s new book. Not the one at the start of the movie. But the one based on the events in the movie. That means between her rescue and the scene on Hawaii that Loretta got home, wrote a book, had the book published, released, then went on a months long tour. And just now her and Alan finally kiss for the first time and start their relationship? It’s one of my big pet peeves in movies like this. They make choices, completely nonsensical in terms of the diegetic world, for the sake of efficiency and the expectation that most audiences won’t think too much about it. But whenever the decision relies on “Hopefully people won’t care” it’s a bad one.
Sandra and Channing are just so good at this that I’m still keeping the movie in the Positives category. Though it got dangerously close to being knocked down just because of that call at the end. Side note, it’s also pretty wild this was initially called The Lost City of D. Bold. Oh and special shout out to Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s character journey in this. Cracked me up. And I’m pretty sure the first phone call with Brad Pitt’s character had a reference to Fight Club when Edward Norton calls Pitt from the payphone and Pitt’s eating when he answers.Watch on:
I’m a big fan of romantic comedies. But I feel like it’s been years and years since we’ve gotten a good one. The last that really impressed me was Set It Up from 2018. That’s 5 years since I’ve seen a new romcom I truly enjoyed. So I had high hopes for You People. Alas. I mean…there are good things there. The core dynamic between Jonah Hill and Laura London is fantastic. For the first 30 minutes of the movie, I was charmed and invested and happy. Then it just becomes a series of awkward, negative encounters that kind of rush by without any real consequence until the very end. I didn’t feel like I was getting a story that relied on the characters. Rather, it was like the characters were in service to a string of gags and commentary. Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus have such an enormous bearing on the plot but barely have any development.
So the story ends up in this weird place where it’s not really about Amira and Ezra anymore but about what Shelley and Akbar do to Ezra and Amira. When you finally get the breakthrough, it’s not something the main characters figure out. Akbar changes because his brother, EJ, lectures him. Shelley at least evolves because of what Amira said to her, but the evolution is entirely off screen and within the last 5 minutes. We go from her at her worst to a 3 month break to suddenly Shelley being normal after an entire movie where she was anything but.
Despite all of that, I was still going to put You People in the neutral category. Until the wedding. Amira and Ezra don’t see each other for 3 months. Shelley and Akbar trick them into showing up at the same place at the same time. We get the big apology/breakthrough. Clearly Ezra and Amira still love each other. We assume they’ll pick up where they left off. Seems like an okay place to end. But then the doors open and it’s all their friends and family gathered for a wedding. Imam and Rabbi are there. Look at that!
I’d expect something that ridiculous from a Hallmark movie. But from Jonah and Kenya Barris? It blew me away. Like…I get it. It’s a movie. It’s heightened. It was never about utter realism. The wedding is fun and captures the energy of the moment. It just reads to me like a choice made completely out of a desire for efficiency. “Oh, we want to have the wedding. Except we kind of wrote ourselves into a corner. We could go back to the drawing board with the entire third act and set this up better. But what if we just have the parents surprise reconnect them at a surprise wedding and hope no one thinks too critically about the plot construction?”
It will probably be a completely fine choice for some people. Not for me though. And that’s my big thing with You People. It doesn’t feel like I’m watching a story, so much as witnessing a bunch of story beats.Watch on:
I’m going to preface this by saying that when I first saw There Will Be Blood, I didn’t like it. When the movie ended, I stood up, looked at my friend, and confidently said, “That’s one movie I’ll never watch again.” Then I thought about it obsessively for 6 months. When it finally was available to buy, I bought it. Re-watched it. And now it’s a top 5 all-time movie for me. So there’s hope for Tár.
Tár was one where the trailer sold me with how abstract it was. Then, for some reason, I never saw it in theaters. So I heard about it for months and months. Which built up a lot of anticipation. Especially with people leaving me comments saying they can’t wait to see what I think of it and how befuddled they were. I expected the movie to get trippy. Then it…kind of didn’t? Except it does?
The big tipping point for Tár will be people realizing, critics too, that it is a surreal movie. There are supernatural elements. The question is: how surreal? How literal are events? How subjective? Does everything we see happen actually happen? There are some speculating that parts of the movie are entirely fantastic. While others think there’s a literal explanation for all the ghostly aspects.
I land somewhere in the middle. Personally, I think of Tár as a retelling of The Tell-Tale Heart. Lydia is haunted by guilt. She knows she ruined Krista’s career. And once Krista’s gone, the guilt hits and won’t leave. Which is when the movie turns more subjective and a touch more surreal. Her past haunts her present and reduces her future. There’s conversation about the division between art and the artist, about the idea of the #MeToo movement as part of a purification cycle in the aftermath of culture shifts, and, of course, power. Also age. We see this in the way in which Olga is not impressed with Tár. She doesn’t censor herself out of diffidence to the great composer. She even makes a suggestion to Lydia new music. And when they’re in New York together, Olga blows Lydia off to go party with randoms. It echoes what we saw in the classroom near the film’s beginning when Max didn’t share the same views as Lydia. There’s a disconnect between her and this next generation. Her career was kind of already over and she didn’t even know it yet.
These are all things I love the idea of. And the cinematography and performances are out of this world. The long shots! I love long shots. The patience Todd Fields has in this film is amazing. So why did I only put it in the Positives tier?
At least as of the first watch, I just found it all a bit…blase? The story is essentially: set up the greatness of this character, bring them crashing down. Within the first 10 minutes, I get it. Which means that I’m just waiting and waiting and waiting for the scale to tip and the other shoe to drop. And it’s all very familiar. Not the presentation of events, but the events themselves. Lydia tries to distance herself from Krista and evidence of their connection. But we know that won’t work. The story gains traction. Lawyers get involved. The New York Post writes a story. People close to Lydia have some questions. They want to distance themselves. We haven’t necessarily seen it on the screen in this way, but we all know the story at this point.
So if the story is that familiar, I’m asking “What else?” And Tár‘s answer is the supernatural aspect. Which is cool. Krista’s continued presence in the film is great. The highbrow Poe-ness is great. But is it enough? Like the scream in the park is something that happens, that has me interested, but becomes more of a surreal, subjective commentary on Lydia’s mental state rather than a meaningful part of the story. Likewise with the trek through Olga’s apartment building. The scene is eerie and cool, especially with the growling and the sight of the dog at the end of the hallway. But, again, it’s not necessarily narratively meaningful so much as an outward expression of Lydia’s interior state. There’s merit to that. There’s style to that. But when I want more from the story itself, it just leaves me wishing these things were more literal and consequential than they’re meant to be.
I guess another way to look at it is if you take these surreal moments out of the story entirely, the story doesn’t change. The screaming in the park adds to the stress Lydia feels, but it’s not a key narrative element. If she dropped Olga off and drove away, rather than having that trippy experience in the basement level—nothing significant changes. She could have fallen and hurt her shoulder in a million others ways that would be stylish and interesting.
This is a complaint you’ll see me make a lot, but I think Tár is missing its third act. I want to see something where it’s 50 years later and we’re back in a classroom and a teacher is talking about Lydia Tár to their students. What’s the conversation? Or it’s 5 years later and we’re seeing Lydia trying to make a comeback. Has she amended? How has this experience changed her? Or what? Going back to There Will Be Blood, one of the things that hooked me is that it didn’t just end with the success of the pipeline. It leapt years ahead to show us the end result. How was Daniel Plainview now? Who was he? He gained everything he ever wanted. So was he happy? That final conversation between Daniel and Eli is so climatic and resounding and incredible.
Tár never gave me that? I feel like whenever it started to head in that direction of delivering something profound, it cut. I wanted Tár to crescendo. Maybe I’ll appreciate it more on a re-watch. But, for now, I’m disappointed. But I wouldn’t be upset if it won Best Picture or any of the major Oscar awards. The filmmaking and performances are that amazing. And it is one of the best pure examples of “show don’t tell” that I’ve ever seen.Watch on:
Man, Babylon. I keep bouncing back and forth between being impressed and disappointed. On the one hand, what it took to make this film is insane. Just the opening party is this frenetic madhouse. I was in awe thinking about how insane the production must have been. On the other hand, it also felt just a bit…try-hard? I think about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and there was a naturalness and casualness to the whole thing that let me flow with its mythologizing of Old Hollywood. But the garishness and absurdity that Damien Chazelle brings to events had kind of the opposite effect. Like it was just a bit too aggrandizing and in love with itself. Garish is the word that comes to mind. It’s likely that was 100% intentional. Especially with how the film comes full circle and begins to imply that Hollywood is always the party on the hill that sweeps people in then spits them out. It is excessive. It is horrible. But it’s also undeniably amazing.
I get all of that. I appreciate the history. More than that, I appreciate how much Babylon feels like a love letter to everyone Hollywood has stepped on and over. I can imagine there are a lot of people who have been in the industry who watch this and feel a validation that’s hard to explained. Like a “Thank you for seeing me.” Even as someone who just loves movies, there’s something powerful in the final moments. Something sad and lovely and right.
Filmmakers making movies about Hollywood is as annoying as novelists writing novels about being a novelist. It can work. Don’t get me wrong. Pretty much anything can be done well and be the exception to the rule. It just means there’s an uphill battle. And I don’t think Babylon really makes the climb. It’s kind of pretty much exactly the elephant in the back of the truck that opens the movie. I guess the elephant eventually gets up the hill, so my metaphor isn’t perfect here. But you get what I mean. It’s also not just another movie about Old Hollywood—it’s another movie about the demise of the Hollywood dream. Sunset Boulevard. The Artist. Mulholland Drive. etc. etc. 2022 already had Blonde. Chazelle does have a unique take on the topic. But it still didn’t really feel like it was telling me anything I didn’t already know. Newer actor flames out. Older actor can’t handle the fall from grace. Hollywood is fake and awesome and awful and magical. Sure. So?
It’s essentially Chazelle saying “I know this industry can suck, but what we do immortalizes us. Isn’t that something?” It is. But is it enough? Is celluloid immortality worth the personal emptiness? Maybe? Through Manny, maybe the suggestion is, “No.” But it also seems like, “Yes.” At least a “It’s complicated.” I just wish maybe there was a bit more contrast. Can no one in Hollywood be successful and have a happy personal life? That lack of antidote, that lack of juxtaposition, became something I couldn’t stop wanting the movie to explore. And it ultimately is one of the reasons I came away unsatisfied. With this being 3 hour movie…I want the exploration to be a bit more kaleidoscopic. Rather than, “Everything’s good. Now it’s bad. Now it’s over.”
Margot Robbie definitely stole the show. And Chazelle reaffirms his potential. I adore Whiplash. But La La Land and First Man weren’t even things I wanted to go see. Now this. I’m starting to think Chazelle and I just have very different narrative interests. I want something present day or futuristic. Not La La Land‘s nostalgia or the actual historical settings of First Man and Babylon. At least we have Denis Villeneuve. I still have hope for Chazelle having another film that hits for me the way Whiplash did. Babylon certainly had its moments.Watch on:
This was my first time seeing Parasite since theaters. It held up. Obviously some of the excitement was lost since I knew what would happen. The twists and turns weren’t as shocking. But Parasite was so much funnier than I remembered. I’ve always thought of it as having dark comedy elements but the first half is just so fun and funny. Cho Yeo-jeong plays such a hilarious airhead. And Park So-dam kind of steals every scene she’s in. Of course, Song Kang-ho is just masterful. His body language. Delivery. The whole aura of the character he exudes. Man, I want to praise everyone because they all did such a wonderful job.
Obviously the socio-economic commentary is the primary thing Parasite comments on. The dynamic between those who have and those who don’t. The Parks and Kims represent two sides of the same coin. And we see how lax the Parks can be while the Kims have to hustle and hustle and hustle. This comes to a head in the aftermath of the storm. For the Parks, it was nothing. A rainy day. The Kims lost everything.
One thing that jumped out to me a bit more this time was some geo-political commentary. When the Kims have their confrontation with Moon-gwang and her husband, there’s a moment where Moon-gwang pretends to be a news anchor from North Korea. Which could just be a brief moment of humor and not have any deeper meaning. But when you zoom out, these two families are battling over one space (the Park family home) and the confrontation between them goes from civil to violent back to kind of a Cold War then a final fight. At one point, Kim Ki-jung (Jessica) even asks her mom if they shouldn’t at least “talk to them. Reach an understanding?” On top of this, Mrs. Park had just made a reference to a military conflict, the Battle of Hansan Island. A reference to the Japanese invasion of Korea that happened back in 1592. Right after that, we have Mr. Park and Mr. Kim dressed as Native Americans. I don’t think I really have a big point about all of this. I just thought it was interesting. Maybe it’s coincidence, but I do wonder if there’s a larger conversation that people kind of haven’t had yet.
Anyway, a masterpiece by Bong Joon-ho.Watch on:
I’m lukewarm on Christopher Nolan. I’m someone who really likes to think through movies and pays probably a bit too much attention to how they’re constructed. Nolan films are the equivalent of those McManshion houses that look really nice on the initial eye test but are questionable when you start inspecting the craftsmanship. For example, Interstellar has a dad with two kids. He goes off to space and a lot of time passes on Earth. One kid stays loyal. The other one feels abandoned. The loyal kid is made out to be a good person. The unhappy kid is made out to be a bad person. At the end of the movie, the dad gets to reunite with the loyal kid. There’s a nice moment. He never once asks about the other kid. And he has no idea what transpired. He should still be equally concerned about both. But Nolan’s not that emotionally nuanced. “Disloyal kid is bad. We don’t care, so the dad doesn’t care.” It’s one of those things that 99% of people probably don’t care about. But it pissed me off.
Same thing in The Dark Knight Rises when Batman returns to Gotham and lights this flaming bat symbol on a bridge. I can suspend disbelief that Batman has advanced tech and fights crime in this awesome suit. But I can’t suspend disbelief that he could paint a bat symbol that’s 100 feet wide and spans the upper architecture of a huge bridge. It would take him literally hours. And he did it without anyone seeing him?!?! It’s just too absurd.
Anyway, Tenet. It’s the same thing. Tenet‘s cool. It’s slick. But there are just so many things that bug me that I don’t rate the movie all that highly. A lot of the sequences that are supposed to be cool struck me as mostly silly.Watch on:
CHIP ‘N DALE: RESCUE RANGERS
Rescue Rangers was actually a bit of a pleasant surprise. As a kid, I watched the old show all the time. Loved it. Still, to this day, in my thirties, I sometimes sing the theme song to myself. So when the movie got announced, I was doubtful yet hopeful. Then when Andy Samburg and John Mulaney got on board, I was excited. I probably got my hopes up a bit much. I didn’t think they really gave Samburg and Mulaney enough to do? Especially when I compare Mulaney in Rescue Rangers to Mulaney in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. The latter film utilized him way better, I thought. I did enjoy the meta aspects of Rescue Rangers and how it blended CGI and traditional animation. There’s a lot to like, but it seemed like it stayed a little too safe. I do hope they get a sequel.Watch on:
THE BOB’S BURGERS MOVIE
This was fun. There was a genuinely cool and shocking moment in the bottom of a pit. Some good jokes. No major criticisms. Just more of a low ceiling kind of thing. Definitely a fun watch if you like the show. But if you like the show you don’t need me to tell you to watch the movie. If you’ve never watched Bob’s Burgers and are looking for something, it’s a good show. You can start with the movie and not miss too much.Watch on:
DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
I was a big fan of the first Doctor Strange, so was looking forward to this one. Such a let down. The MCU is having a tonal issue. Everything leading up to Infinity War and Endgame was mostly serious in terms of the overall story being told. Even something like Thor: Ragnarok was a pretty heavy film, with Thor using humor as defense mechanism rather than simply for the sake of being goofy. I guess Ant-Man was a bit lighter being a Paul Rudd movie. But the prevailing tone of the MCU from Winter Soldier through Endgame was pretty mature. Post-Endgame has been all over the place. The tone of the Disney+ tv shows is often goofy and outrageous. Multiverse of Madness is often outrageous, even as it deals with mental illness, grief, and trauma. I’m just…pretty frustrated with how Phase 4 has gone. There were good concepts in Madness and I liked the aesthetic/style that Raimi brought to it. But the actual plot left me often just rolling my eyes. This needed a few more major re-writes before filming.Watch on:
Get Out is still my favorite Jordan Peele movie. I do think Us and Nope upped the scope and sense of spectacle, but I feel like both kind of suffer from feeling incomplete. Even Get Out is a little unsatisfying in terms of what does Chris do next? How has this experience affected him? Does he evolve for the better? Or does it corrupt him? I think that’s kind of my biggest criticism of Peele through his first three films. He has amazing concepts. And a great eye. But he has yet to take a story through its third act. Everything ends halfway. What’s the impact of the uprising in Us? What’s the impact of the photograph in Nope? It’s the same question as “What’s the impact on Chris” just scaled up as Peele tackled larger stories.
If it seems like I’m being overly critical, it’s just because I think Jordan Peele has the potential to be one of the best directors of the 21st century. The talent is there. The potential is there. He’s already made some of the most exciting movies of the last 10 years, if not the entire first 23 years of this century. I think he’s just scratching the surface of his greatness. I just hope he gets there, you know? He’s capable of multiple masterpieces.Watch on:
This was my third or fourth time watching Knives Out. I’ve been a fan since the opening weekend and was one of the people telling everyone I knew that they should see this movie. But it’s been a few years since my last watch. I was really curious how I’d feel at this point? It wouldn’t be the first film I liked only to lose interest in after gaining some distance. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Knives Out still hit for me. What made this re-watch fascinating was it being the first one post-Glass-Onion.
For those who don’t know, Glass Onion is the Knives Out sequel. And I hated Glass Onion. It felt like such a tremendous drop in quality. Most of my complaints focused on the writing quality. Frustration with the mystery elements. Anger at plot contrivances. A recoil at the overall cartoonishness. I wrote this big long article called “Glass Onion: Bad Writing“. Despite my conviction in the lower quality, it had me kind of gaslighting myself. Maybe Knives Out hadn’t been that good and Glass Onion was closer in quality than I remembered?
So that was really on my mind as Knives Out started. And pretty much immediately, I felt vindicated. And it wasn’t even the writing. It was the visuals and editing. The filmmaking quality is, I think, massively better in Knives Out. It’s patient and atmospheric rather than bright and efficient. There’s a sense of control and mastery I get from Knives Out, where Glass Onion looked like a made-for-TV movie by The CW.
Compare the opening sequences. Knives Out is a brief flourish that shows the house, some aesthetic within the house, then culminates with the discovery of Harlan Thrombey’s body. Then we cut to a week later and settle into Marta as our POV character. Following her, we gradually dive into the Thrombey family and the drama of the Harlan’s demise.
In Glass Onion, it’s this sprawling, multi-character sequence that follows the solving of a puzzle box. And that’s fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong there. You could even argue that it’s a great way to juxtapose the second film from the first. My issue is with the execution. The dialogue. The absurdity of how the solutions present themselves, like when a Yo-Yo Ma randomly overhears a song no one else knows and explains it’s Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor. Some people won’t mind that, or will even like it. To me, it’s too cute. Each person in the group has one bit of information they happen to stumble upon that makes progress toward the solution. It’s so neat and stylized. I hate it. The payoff with Helen breaking the box wide open is nice though, as contrast. It’s not like Glass Onion is without positive moments or elements. It’s just such an overall quality downgrade.
There was a care and craftsmanship to Knives Out that just absolutely stands out to me. Like the introduction of Blanc as this mysterious background character who flips a coin while other people give interview answers to the local police. When he finally comes forward and takes over the movie, it’s wonderful. Alas, I felt no such wonder in Glass Onion.
But, yes, I still enjoy Knives Out.Watch on:
In the summer of 2020, I had an existential crisis. Before I go to bed, I often listen to music. Playlists. Albums. Whatever. It’s a nice way to decompress. This particular night, I had on Kid A by Radiohead. For those who have never heard it, I’d describe it as beautiful abstract horror. There’s just something haunting and empty about it. Like it’s whispering your future but in a language you don’t understand. In the middle of this ever-so-peaceful chaos, epiphany struck. A switch flipped in my head, and suddenly I felt what it was like to die. There was this void in the pit of my stomach. And it was, one day, going to swallow all my thoughts, senses, memories, hopes, perceptions. Everything. I’d be gone. A TV turned off. Fruit fallen from the branch, rotting in the grass, picked apart by ants. I just lay there in an utter stupor for a couple hours, unable to think of anything else. Finally, I just got out of bed and started the next day. The next night? Got into bed and immediately felt the void. So I hopped out of bed and stayed up until 5am until sleep said “Fine, I”ll do it myself” and knocked me out.
I spent the better part of two years going to bed with a single AirPod in my ear, an audio book playing. The words gave my mind something to focus on that wasn’t the sheer drop of mortality. I started therapy. That sh*t f***ed me up.
The last thing I expected going into Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was to see a perfect distillation of a battle I waged for years and only recently emerged somewhat tentatively victorious. Yet there it was. On the screen. A mid-life crisis in the form of an animated film for children. Amazing. I hadn’t watched a single trailer. I didn’t know anything aside from a single GIF of Puss running across rooftops to attack a giant. I had no idea. The opening song, he talks about being fearless, so I figured his character arc would be an onset of fear followed by a journey to rediscover his courage. Then the bar scene happened. I wanted to applaud then and there. WHAT A SCENE. The atmosphere. The cinematography. The performances by Wagner Moura and Antonio Banderas. The character design. The choreography. Man. Grand slam. At that point, I was hooked.
A cat having an existential crisis isn’t enough for me to rank a movie so highly. Even though it is a great concept. The reason I put Puss in Boots: The Last Wish in the Colossal category is because of the scope and scale and care with which it told the story. The movie is dynamic. It goes places, but doesn’t rush to get there. It’s just a constant flow of micro narratives and each has a beginning, middle, and end. So the scenes feel complete and unique and self-contained while chaining together consequential plot and character developments. So you’re never stuck in one thing for too long. Though you’re not jumping plot point to plot point in a way that feels superficial. It’s a different style of film from something more literary like Triangle of Sadness, but I think Puss in Boots is the best example of “blockbuster” writing that I’ve seen in years.
I knew the broader concept of what would happen (it is a movie for kids, after all). But the journey to get there kept me on my toes and pretty much just continuously delighted me. That’s all I want. To not be bored by how things are playing out. To feel like something is fresh and taking risks. The story might be as old as time. But the what, when, where, who, and how, just shouldn’t feel stagnant or dragged out. For example, a worse movie would have had Puss spend 40 minutes at Mama Luna’s house and have to be convinced to come out of hiding and only have one more action sequence. Or it would have gone into a long flashback to develop Puss and Kitty. Or only had Big Jack Horner’s introduction and one more scene with Jack at the end. In other words, underdeveloped and dragging. Puss in Boots avoided such pitfalls by…staying light on its feet? Is that a good pun? Anyway, what a movie.Watch on:
What a weird movie. I knew absolutely nothing about it. So imagine my surprise when Edgar Allan Poe is a main character. There could be a cool factor to that? But it rattled me. I couldn’t take anything that happened seriously. Especially once Poe started reciting poetry to people. It’s an idea that maybe could work? But I wasn’t a fan, for similar reasons, of the 2012 movie The Raven. Maybe one day someone will get it right and I’ll applaud them for making me appreciate the use of Edgar Allan Poe. Don’t get me wrong, I love EAP. Movies based on his work? I’m in. But movies that blend his work and him? Eh.
Pale Blue Eye has some style. I could appreciate its use of setting. The chill of winter that permeates the cinematography. Christian Bale is always fascinating. But the story left me wanting. It’s a more traditional whodunit than Glass Onion, which I kind of appreciated. From the beginning, though, I was kind of rolling my eyes at the use of exposition and dialogue. It’s one of those movies that I’m sure will hit the mark for some people and have its cult followers. A few right moves away from being good yet unique enough to surprise and carve out a niche. I guess that’s probably where I see the most value? Is that it does feel stylistically apart from the average 2020s film. I respect that.
Enters at 62 of 74.Watch on:
I really liked the premise of M3gan and went in rooting for it to be something special. As a horror, thriller, slasher film, it’s aggressively average. As a meditation on grief and the relationship between people and technology—there’s a lot to like. But the film never really lets loose. The goofiest it gets is the hallway dance that was featured in every trailer. So you’re not getting cult movie bedlam that’s over the top like, say, Cabin in the Woods or Barbarian or Tusk.
M3gan is more serious than those. More in the vein of 2020’s The Invisible Man. Except Invisible Man fully leaned into the uniqueness of its premise and had some awesome scenes that were only possible given its “monster”. M3gan is essentially bland in how it utilizes the Megan character in terms of horror. Her confrontation with the neighbor? Generic horror kill. The confrontation with a child bully? Involves a creepy run but nothing else. The confrontation with Funki CEO David? It’s the dance then a generic “blade through the chest”. At the very end, in the final confrontation with Gemma (Allison Williams), more of the robotic element comes into play. But there’s nothing unique that Megan does that a generic movie monster couldn’t. The final robotic elements are just flashy aesthetic moments that check some horror-trope boxes.
“Okay, Chris. Give us an example of leaning into the premise.” Sure!
The movie often has Megan controlling electronic equipment. She casually turns off the Funki HQs security system. She drives a car by manipulating its computer. She hacks Gemma’s home AI. She intercepts cell phone calls. Having this kind of power over computers/electronics could have been utilized in a way that’s dynamic and interesting when it comes to the horror aspect. But it’s never explored. There’s so much potential left on the table that the climax was, for me, totally lackluster. There’s potential for the sequel to find its groove. But this first one is succeeding on concept alone. To be fair, it’s a great concept and I hope the filmmakers figure it out.
I will once again shout out the thematic work. I do think it’s making a poignant statement on the need for human interaction.Watch on:
I saw M3GAN and was disappointed so a friend recommended Terrifier 2. I was assured I didn’t need to see the original Terrifier to appreciate this. That the mythology and backstory were introduced in the sequel because the first one received a lot of criticisms about its lack of story. Cool. So I went in knowing absolutely nothing about the movie aside from looking at the poster once.
I actually thought the first 15 minutes were the most interesting. The initial tone-setting with Art brutalizing the coroner and heading back out into the world. The laundromat. The ChehkovGunning with Sienna’s costume and sword. I was into it and hopeful. Then the Clown Cafe scene happened. It was so drawn out, inexplicable, and completely without stakes that the payoff didn’t do anything for me. It hit me as indulgent rather than necessary. Which some people might be absolutely fine with. Or even prefer. Especially in the slasher genre. Maybe it would have worked if the film would have done more with the connection between Sienna and Art, but it never developed that part of the story.
Also, the supernatural stuff seemed completely illogical? The Little Pale Girl was just a figment of Art’s imagination…except sometimes she was visible to others. Is that just because of Sienna and Jonathan having a connection to Art? Or what? What are the implication of her existence? Or that there really was a Clown Cafe in the bottom of the carnival? What is this world where Sienna has a flaming sword that brings her back to life? If that kind of power exists, where do we go from here? And is Art just a smaller part of a larger demonic world? Or is he the most powerful entity from it?
I’m not saying I need answers to all of this. It’s just one of those things that as the story introduces stuff like Sienna glowing with light and resurrecting that you kind of wonder how far it goes? It actually makes me appreciate Stranger Things a bit more as Stranger Things really leaned into the premise of the Upside Down and has introduced all of these others monsters. If the Terrifier universe is going to continue, I would hope Damien Leone follows up with some of the concepts he introduced. Like do we get some angel that comes down to fight Art? Kind of going Terminator 2 style where there’s a good cyborg versus an evil cyborg? Does Sienna become some Army of Darkness super badass?
A pile of interesting ideas and style. But definitely not living up to its full potential. I’m rooting for Damien to get there with it. I though Lauren LaVera and Elliot Fullam were great. And is it too much to say David Howard Thorton is in the mold of an Andy Serkis? Would be really interested in seeing him go down that mo-cap route and see where it leads.Watch on:
I’m a huge Don DeLillo fan. I wrote him a letter once and he was kind enough to write me back. He’s one of the most influential figures in my artistic life as a novelist. So whenever there’s a movie based on one of his books, I’m excited. I’m probably one of the few people in the world who glowingly talks about 2011’s Cosmopolis. I’ve watched the movie like 10 times and read the book almost as many. The Body Artist, Point Omega, Underworld, are all novels that mean a lot to me. White Noise is one I haven’t read. Maybe because it’s the most popular? So I was pretty curious how it would be to go in blind and judge the film without any affection for the novel. The result? Eh.
One thing that was discussed after Cosmopolis came out was how unnatural DeLillo’s dialogue is. Watch any dialogue from Cosmopolis and you can see the actors caught between trying to make it natural vs leaning into how stylized it is. The same thing happens in White Noise. A lot of the time, Adam Driver has to talk with a near identical cadence to Pattinson. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just amused me. But it was something that threw Cosmopolis viewers for a loop. Just like it’s thrown DeLillo readers. So I’m sure there will be people who try to watch White Noise and feel like something is off and not be sure what it is. It’s the dialogue. It reads better than it speaks.
Narratively, there were interesting individual scenes. But there weren’t a lot of stakes. Until the disaster, nothing’s really happening. We’re in the world but without much narrative focus. The train crash and resulting toxic cloud provides the missing stakes. I finally felt somewhat invested. It just never really went anywhere. It’s this huge event that comes and goes and is mostly used to give Jack Gladney a medical scare. Given how the whole theme is about death, that makes sense. I wanted more, though. I don’t think we quite got enough of Jack dealing with his impending mortality. Instead, the story swerves into infidelity. And tries to dovetail the marriage, infidelity, and mortality threads? Instead of coming together in a powerful way, it all kind of unraveled for me. Especially because the final confrontation shares its basic elements with Cosmopolis, as in two characters come face to face, with one wanting to kill the other, and they have a big theoretical conversation. The showdown between Pattinson and Paul Giamatti is something I find truly compelling. Adam Driver vs. Lars Eidinger? Far less so.
The best part of the movie, for me, was Greta Gerwig’s performance. It’s actually the first movie I’ve ever watched with her in it. Which is kind of crazy. I’d heard great things. And I very much enjoyed Lady Bird. But she just kind of carried the movie for me.
I definitely need to prioritize the novel, now, though. Maybe the book has flaws and those were accurately ported over by Baumbach? Meaning it’s less about Baumbach’s adaptation and more about the weakness of the source material? Or it’s just one of the many instances of the book being better as a book. Will update once I’ve finished the novel.Watch on:
Falling Down is one of those movies I’ve seen a lot of clips from and knew the premise of but had never actually watched it start to finish. It surprised me. For most of the movie, I thought it was kind of glorifying William Foster. He’s the everyman against the system. Isn’t he justified? I could imagine Clint Eastwood watching this in the theater in 1993 and reflexively saying “atta boy” under his breath. Honestly, I was kind of uncomfortable. Falling Down felt like such a relic of the early 90s when you could make a movie that was so socially repugnant and have it cheered. This would never fly in the 2020s, I thought. Then the turn came.
William Foster isn’t the hero. He’s the bad guy. And it’s actually pretty brilliant how the movie initially has people identifying with him. They may not agree with everything he says and does, but there’s probably some recognition of his frustration. With traffic. With prices. With safety. With breakfast no longer being served after 11:30am. Etc. Etc. These are relatable things that most people can understand. Yet Foster’s methods are extreme. He’s racist. Arrogant. Dangerous. Even if you believe in the cause, should you cheer him on? Can you cheer him on?
By the end, he’s a full blown psychopath. Someone who believed he was justified until realizing, wait, no, actually, he’s been at fault this entire time. Instead of feeling completely detached from the 2020s, Falling Down hit me as more relevant than ever before. The way in which the internet, especially social media, has radicalized so many people. There are thousands of would-be William Fosters, sitting in their vehicles, right now, waiting for the bad day that will get them out of the car and “going home”. It’s pretty terrifying.Watch on:
This was my third time watching Hereditary. The first time absolutely blew my mind and had me gushing about it for months. The second time, I showed some friends. It shocked them but wasn’t quite as mesmerizing for me. It’s been a few years now. This third watch was good. I think better than the second but still not as spell-binding as the first. The performances are still insane. Toni Collette could have (should have?) won an Oscar for best actor. Everyone knows that though. I still think Alex Wolff deserves more praise. And the cinematography is top-notch. There’s such a sense of authority to the film. I’m always surprised this was Ari Aster’s debut feature. From start to finish, it’s a masterclass in structure, camera, acting, everything.
So why a ranking in the Impressive category rather than Amazing or Colossal? I have this hang up on stories that feel like two acts and end with the implication of something more. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves. If not the biggest. So Hereditary is this huge build-up to get Paimon into Peter’s body. Okay. Then what? What happens? Is it everything the coven/cult thought it would be? Does Paimon grant them power? Does he destroy them? Does he wreak havoc on the world? Does he simply go on living Peter’s life like normal? What happens? What are the consequences of the actions of the film?
The implication of summoning one of the eight demon kings of Hell onto Earth to take possession of a human body is huge. If you’re going to go there, I need for the story to go all the way. But Hereditary just ends. Compare that to Cabin in the Woods. At least it had the decency to [Spoiler ahead] give us a final, climactic moment where the giant erupts from the Earth, probably bringing about the destruction of the planet. I had similar issues with Ex Machina. I think that movie ended too early and needed like…5-10 more minutes of what happens next. So as special as I think Hereditary is, I also think it’s kind of cowardly. So.Watch on:
Denis Villeneuve is, to me, a top three filmmakers of the 21st century. Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and Dune are all exactly my kind of cinema. Visually rich. Narratively dynamic. Prisoners and Sicario are probably the most subtle of Denis’s films. They seem like straight forward crime thrillers and people may watch them several times over without picking up on a lot of the themes deeper themes. Like most viewers don’t come away from Prisoners saying, “I really liked its meditation on religion through the intersection of Keller Dover’s Christianity and Loki’s Paganism.” How that plays out for them is just “That shot of the tree was intense for reasons I don’t understand?” Prisoners is actually a very complicated exploration of religion and even kind of implies a divine presence. It’s endlessly fascinating to me.
My favorite part of Prisoners is probably Loki? How Gyllenhaal played the character is so cool. All of his choices fascinated me. And favorite scene is probably the race to the hospital in the snow and rain. Even now when I know exactly what will happen, it still gives me anxiety. So well filmed and executed.
My wife had never watched Die Hard. So, in the spirit of the Christmas season, I made her watch it. The good news, she liked it! The bad news, there is none. Die Hard remains a classic. Still doesn’t feel dated to me. I get why some people might think it’s a bit slow or drawn out, but that’s something I’m starting to miss. I’ve watched almost 60 movies in 2022 and most of them are so…efficient? It’s kind of disappointing. Not saying every long or slow movie is better. Just that it seems less and less movies focus on world building and are shallow because of it. It’s one of the reasons Avatar: The Way of Water was so refreshing to me. It took the time to tell the full story. It’s also the reason I prefer the first four Harry Potter movies to the last four. Die Hard is so good because it’s so patient and develops a number of characters and subplots.
My favorite part of Die Hard is probably understanding it better? The first few times I saw it, I was in college and my early twenties. So a lot of the stuff with John McClane and his wife felt more like fluff to me? But now that I’m in my mid-thirties, their relationship dynamics hit me a bit harder. Oh man, and the reporter interviewing the kids on TV. Picturing the social media equivalent of that in modern times sent my brain for some loops.Watch on:
Banshees of Inisherin is one that could move up, the more I sit with it. It’s a gorgeous movie. And Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are insane in it. Is it okay to say ask if it’s their best work ever? It’s thought provoking, daring, unique. And has the subtext of being a metaphor for the Irish Civil War. Which puts a lot of the absurd stuff into context. Like I’m guessing the cutting off of the fingers is supposed to be symbolic of policies and decisions that did more harm than good. I haven’t looked into it yet, but I’m sure one character represents the Provisional Government of Ireland and another the Irish Republic Army. And I’m sure there were questionable things each side did where you’re like “Why? Why do that?” And that’s what makes the whole fallout between Padraic and Colm so sad—it was entirely unnecessary and came about on a whim and caused real damage.
What’s keeping me from ranking it higher is two things. First, I wanted just a bit more. I prefer movies with scope and scale. And this was just a bit contained. It’s amazing for what it is. But it had a lower ceiling for me. The second thing is an issue with tone. As amazing as Farrell, Gleeson, and Kerry Condon were—the other actors almost sounded more like theater actors than movie actors. Which is a dumb thing to say. I know. Barry Keoghan is very much a capable film actor. I loved him The Green Knight. He’s someone who is just scratching the surface of his potential. But in this, he and others just felt a bit more character-y and exaggerated, like you see in theater. And especially in comparison to Farrell, Gleeson, and Condon.
Take those criticisms for what they are: my idiosyncrasies. And very nitpicky. But it’s that kind of stuff that separates the top movies for me. It still goes into the Impressive category. So it’s not an indictment. It’s a special movie that will really hit the spot for a lot of people.Watch on:
What a weird ass movie. Especially following up Avatar: The Way of Water. My impression of Bodies Bodies Bodies is that someone who is a Millennial wanted to mock Gen Z culture. And their perspective is that Gen Z is hysterical. Not in a “You’re so funny” way but in a “You overreact about everything and it’s causing problems.” Everyone is cheerfully performative or barely thinking. And that made Bodies Bodies Bodies pretty hard to watch, because I was just so aware of how much the filmmakers seemed to despise their subjects. And I’m fine with satire and lampooning a topic. One of my favorite movies this year (Triangle of Sadness) did exactly that. This just felt…belittling? And I’m not sure how interested I am in that kind of tone? Where as Triangle of Sadness is pretty harsh in its critiques of the rich, but it’s a much larger discussion about economic structure and how that affects people, rather than just a negative statement about people.
There is a bit of the cult film aspect to Bodies Bodies Bodies. Where some of the bad acting and absurd dialogue transcends the idea of quality and is just fun for people. So I can see it being something that a lot of people “get” and enjoy and try and make a thing. It’s just not for me.Watch on:
Avatar: The Way of Water blew me away. I mean, the story is still pretty basic, which was the big knock on the original. You’re not getting groundbreaking twists and turns like a Nolan movie. Or surprising narrative design a la Barbarian and Triangle of Sadness. Or even subtextual themes and deep meaning. What you do get is thorough. And complete. Way of the Water takes the time to develop character arcs and relationships and stakes. You’re narratively immersed in a way a lot of movies don’t have time for these days. And then visually. My goodness.
Visually, Avatar: The Way of Water is the best looking movie I’ve ever watched. The high frame rate is incredible. The 3D is incredible. And the CGI is incredible. Cinematography wise, it’s not a Roger Deakins movie or anything. It’s not 2001: a Space Odyssey. There are moments that pop. But really it’s just that the floor is so much higher than any movie that’s ever existed. It’s legitimately the best CGI that’s ever existed up to this point. That makes Way of Water a technical achievement, a visual masterpiece. It raises the bar higher than the original did in 2010.
The sequence with the whale hunt was one of the most painful and amazing scenes I’ve seen in years. It’s the perfect example of what I mean by Way of Water being thorough in its storytelling. We watch this whale/tulkun hunt from start to finish and get incredible detail on the tactics and equipment. James Cameron contrasts the fascinating process with the horror from the tulkun perspective. It’s kind of haunting.
Then all the action scenes are wild. Like I kind of felt honored to be watching them? I just couldn’t believe how awesome they looked. How visceral and consequential. It’s kind of the most in awe I’ve been in the theater since watching Inception for the first time.
So, yeah. Even though it’s not the greatest story ever told or anything. It’s arguably the most visually impressive movie ever made. And that deserves the number one spot.Watch on:
This was a weird one for me. I loved Geppetto and Carlo and found them very endearing. And I grew to like Pinocchio. Oh, and Spazzatura was amazing. But I disliked most of the other characters. Especially Sebastian J. Cricket. His narration was fine, but his in-scene dialogue just always felt off to me. Like not really fitting the tone of the movie or moment. And then there were a lot of the neat Guillermo Del Toro designs and twists. Except they felt kind of truncated? Or maybe too superficial?
For example, the Wood Sprite. She just kind of appears and does this nice thing, vanishes until the end, then saves the day. Her introduction is the individual sprites flowing through the woods and maybe noticing Geppetto’s drunken mourning about Carlo. Sebastian tells us they notice but the actual visual doesn’t provide clear information. And we don’t see the sprites again until they enter the home. Which is pretty much hours after we saw them in the woods. It’s just…muddled and thin. The idea is fine. But the execution leaves, at least for me, a lot to be desired.
It’s the same with the afterlife world. It’s a very cool idea. And the sphinx that turns the hourglass is such a cool design. Yet we don’t really spend that much time there. The world building never goes anywhere. Movies like Mad God and Avatar: The Way of Water spend so much time immersing you in the world. While Pinocchio gives you the elevator pitch. I’m not saying we needed a lot more but a longer scene would have been nice.
I can see why a lot of people would be charmed by Del Toro’s version of Pinocchio. I did appreciate the beauty of the stop-motion and the characters and the last meditation on death. But overall it was a little undercooked for me.Watch on:
Violent Night was fun. I like to think most of the world is rooting for David Harbour to do great things. And this was definitely in his wheelhouse. It’s really not that different from a bizarro episode of Stranger Things. I liked a lot of the fight choreography and humor. Definitely feels like Violent Night has the makings of a cult classic. The highlight, of course, was the Home Alone inspired sequence. And that it feels like Violent Night is the answer to the question, “What if Die Hard was even more of a Christmas movie?” My biggest complaint would probably just be some of the writing around the main family. And the long long time it takes for Santa to really get his fighting spirit back. I think Violent Night will be a lot more enjoyable than people may expect. And definitely something people might watch every Christmas. The Bad Santa for a new generation.Watch on:
THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY HOLIDAY SPECIAL
This was legitimately one of the worst things I’ve ever watched. And I’m a Marvel fan. I’m an MCU fan. I like Guardians and Guardians 2. I know James Gunn can be a good writer. But, Jesus. Almost every single piece of dialogue hurt me. And Mantis and Drax were insufferable. Truly and utterly insufferable. And kind of the main villains? Part of me wants to let it off the hook by saying it’s for kids. Except it’s kind of not. The whole stretch from the bar, to stealing from the woman selling maps, to breaking into Kevin Bacon’s house, to kidnapping Kevin Bacon, to beating up the police, to revealing Kevin Bacon to Peter was excruciating. The only part I liked was Mantis telling Peter she was his sister. That was nice. Other than that, yikes. I like to imagine James Gunn set a kitchen timer for 25 minutes, opened Final Draft, typed until the bell sounded, and that was the entire screenwriting process.
I will say, it’s pretty funny that James Gunn got a Batman reference in there when he’s the new co-CEO of DC Studios. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get a crossover movie one day. Marvel and DC did do a huge thing in the 90s where their entire rosters fought one another. Then merged into hybrid version? Like Wolverine and Batman. It was pretty nuts. I dare both Marvel and DC to base a movie trilogy on it.Watch on:
Bones and All is good. I’m trying to figure out if it’s great. I’m maybe underrating it a little bit? It’s the first movie in a long long long time to remind me of a Cormac McCarthy novel. And Cormac is, I think, one of the greatest American novelists of all time. It’s a better Cormac McCarthy movie than McCarthy’s own movie The Counselor. It’s like a little mini No Country For Old Men. Which is awesome. It also reminds me of Winter’s Bone, the movie that turned Jennifer Lawrence into a star. I think this is probably better overall? But Winter’s Bone felt more…built out? I guess that’s the thing that’s kind of keeping me from heavily praising Bones and All. As great as it is, it still feels a bit more breadth than depth to me? Or just a bit smaller in scale? Even with all the travel. I kind of felt like Bones and All never went full throttle. Like it was always holding back a bit. And that’s great for the first, say, hour. It’s restrained. It’s building tension and tone. I just prefer for that to culminate a bit more.
Trust me, I completely get you disagreeing. I’m kind of disagreeing. I’m not saying this is a legitimate criticism. Moreso just highlighting a preference I have. There are some really powerful scenes. It just felt, especially at the end, that some punches were pulled. The movie ends completely differently than the book. There’s a similar fight but different results. I don’t think the book ending is better, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with how the movie concluded.
But, with that said, Bones and All is pretty stellar. I can see Taylor Russell being huge deal. And Timothée Chalamet is as star-worthy as ever. Mark Rylance was tremendous. Man, and there’s that moment near the end where we go from in the apartment to outside for a few shots then back into the apartment. The change in sound from loud to quiet to loud is amazing. A lot of great choices. A lot of awesome moments. But was still looking for that one thing that made me go, “There! Yes. Amazing.”Watch on:
I’ve seen people say Do Revenge is the new Mean Girls. And I get that comparison. Mostly because Do Revenge has so many callbacks to films like Mean Girls and Clueless. But I don’t think it’s anywhere close to the same quality as Mean Girls. It’s like saying Jurassic World is the new Jurassic Park, simply because both feature dinosaurs. But that doesn’t mean the quality is the same. Jurassic World is to Jurassic Park what Ohio is to Hawaii. And when it comes to Do Revenge…it’s just…not Mean Girls. Inspired by Mean Girls yet far from the quality of storytelling.
Not to sound old, but I feel like Do Revenge is an Instagram-ized version of Mean Girls. Everything is sleek and chic and glam. It’s all wealth and unreality. It wants people to relate but also keeps them at arms reach. The thing that bothers me the most is just how underdeveloped everything is. The characters. The consequences. The relationships. It all felt like completing a checklist to me rather than a legitimate narrative. When I think of high school films like Mean Girls, Clueless, Superbad, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Breakfast Club, The Spectacular Now, hell, even Sky High, what stands out to me is how developed and grounded the worlds are. Yeah, Mean Girls is silly. Clueless is silly. Sky High involves superpowers. But they’re still often pretty grounded. While Do Revenge is so…manufactured. It’s a daydream. Because of that, I never connected to the characters or what they were going through.
And, sure. I’m not the target audience. I’m in my thirties. Maybe I’m just the old guy saying “They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.” But watch Do Revenge then watch Mean Girls and you’ll see a huge difference in the quality of the characters, consequences, and world building.
I guess I can get technical really quick and give an example. In Mean Girls, Cady’s parents aren’t around much. But their inclusion adds to the world building. And they also help establish Cady’s initial character. And then serve as a foil once Cady’s become one of the mean girls and messed everything up. Her relationship with her parents, just like Cher’s relationship with her dad in Clueless, adds another dimension to the character. In Do Revenge, parents don’t exist. Drea mentions her mom but that’s it. The mom is completely absent from the story. It’s the same with Russ art collective warehouse. We’re told it’s an art collective. But no one else is ever there. It’s a minor thing. But it adds to the sense of emptiness and hollowness and performativeness. Ultimately, Do Revenge is a really really really really small and unrealistic movie that’s trying to cover up a lot of the “under construction” aspects of its narrative. The actors all do a great job. The story just needed a lot more work.Watch on:
So I’ve been working on the movie guide for Troll and it had me re-evaluating the movie. I didn’t appreciate how pointed the commentary was about the eradication of Norse history by the church. The whole movie is metaphoric for the loss of the culture, traditions, and myths that predated the arrival and rise of Christianity in Norway. With that in mind, everything the Troll King does is infused with meaning. It doesn’t necessarily elevate the superficial entertainment value of Troll. But I do think it means the movie deserves a bit more recognition than I originally gave it. With that in mind, I elevated it from the Negative category to Neutral. From 39 to 34.
Troll is one I was rooting for but don’t think it quite got there. It’s in this middle ground between being absurd fun like Sharknado and a serious monster film like original Gojira. I’m not sure that’s where you want to be, though. The middle ground is safe. While the extremes are riskier. A polarized film might appeal to less people but resonate more strongly with those who do enjoy it. For example, contrast a zombie movie like Shaun of the Dead with another like 28 Days Later. One leans way more into humor. The other way more into art horror. Or something like the Re-Animator that’s just B-movie fun. Troll tries to do a little of everything. There’s some humor. There’s some emotion. There’s some action. Some romance? But probably not enough of any one thing for it to truly matter. And none of those aspects is all that well done. I’m not sure any one aspect of the film stood out.
With that said, I’m sure plenty of people will watch it and find it harmlessly enjoyable. It hits all the proper beats and you can tell everyone’s working hard. So Troll has my respect. But in terms of Norwegian disaster movies, I’m still very partial to The Wave (Bølgen) and would recommend giving that a watch. I will say, there was this moment in Troll when the troll stopped a helicopter from falling on someone. It’s the one thing that piqued my interest and had me thinking, “Okay, maybe this will get interesting.” But they kind of gave up exploring that angle. Maybe in the sequel?Watch Troll on:
Yikes. So the presentation of Don’t Worry Darling was pretty great. Good visuals. Florence Pugh doing her absolute best to save the film. Cool sets. Strong sense of place. It’s just the story was so insanely lacking. And that makes me sad to say because I think Katie Silberman is great. I loved Set It Up. Booksmart was a nice spiritual successor to Superbad. I’m not sure what happened here. If there were too many cooks in the kitchen or the shooting script deviated a lot from the original script? It’s little things, like other characters being half-cooked. Or nothing anyone does really having consequences. The movie is 2 hours and for the first 110 minutes the only things that happen are: Margaret leaves, Alice becomes suspicious. Nothing happens to anyone else. No one has an arc. There’s a flurry of stuff in the last few minutes but it doesn’t lead anywhere because the movie ends. Don’t Worry Darling is only the first 2/3rds of a story rather than a full story.
It just felt like a worse version of The Island or that weird Matthew McConaughey movie Serenity.Watch on:
I wish the trailers for The Menu wouldn’t have given so much away. I still enjoyed the movie, but not knowing the twist would have been a far better experience. I think it’s my favorite performance by Anya Taylor-Joy. Absolutely my favorite Nicholas Hoult performance. He was making me laugh so much. And Ralph Fiennes won’t get an Oscar nomination for this but maybe deserves one? Or at least some kind of honorary mention? He was just such a captivating portrait of self-destruction. And, man, Hong Chau has such presence. I’m excited to see her in The Whale. I feel like we’re just at the start of her doing some really cool things.
Such a dark comedy. And even though it’s about cooking, it seems applicable to any industry where there’s a classist dichotomy. On the one hand, I root for that. The idea of valuing the $9.95 cheeseburger over the $1250 multi-course dining experience. On the other hand, I’m a pretentious writing nerd who geeks out over Don DeLillo novels and long shots in movies. I have a site where I analyze and rank movies. I’m “in the restaurant” so to speak. But I also love a $9.95 cheeseburger. And I have two published novels. So I’m not Tyler the foodie who knows but can’t do. I can do. I do…do… Sigh. So, what I’m trying to say is—The Menu spurred an existential crisis.
I ended up putting it in the Positives category rather than the Really Good category—and this is the kind of thing that would get me turned into a s’more—because as entertained as I was, I felt like the story needed something more. I think about Shutter Island and how, even though it takes place on a single island, it has all these chapters to it that feel visually and tonally unique. Same with X and Barbarian. There are these distinct sections and areas. In comparison, The Menu felt a bit static to me. Like it didn’t know how to shift from third gear to fourth then fifth. Some people prefer a quieter film. I get that. It’s not like I needed huge action sequences or anything. Just something that would stir the energy up a bit.
For example, and I’m not saying this is what I’d do, but having a subplot that takes place off the island. Get Out did this with Chris’s friend, Rod the TSA agent. It doesn’t have to be much, but it allows for some cross cutting. Barbarian accomplished this by cutting from Tess to AJ. Or if The Menu was 20 minutes shorter in the beginning and spent 20 minutes in the aftermath of the dinner and the public finding out. What does that look like? Or wove together the dinner with events after the dinner, so we jumped from experience and consequence of the experience. Another option is what X and Shutter Island did and just explore the space a little more. The Menu does that a little bit at the beginning with the boat and the tour, then when they have the guys run, then with Anya exploring the chef’s house. But X does the convenience store, the farm house, the farm house basement, the barn, the lake, and the guest house, and really kind of builds a unique scene around each location.
Overall, The Menu has a lot of great ingredients. Just felt a tad undercooked. I understand though why some people might have it in their top five, though. It has a lot of “this will be a cult hit” energy.Watch on:
Ti West has been a filmmaker that Travis has loved for years now. Hadn’t clicked for me, yet. The Sacrament was well-made but the story was incredibly predictable. Then Pearl was also well-made but also incredibly predictable. Yes, I saw Pearl before I saw X. Which is why I went into X with total apathy. I figured it too would be incredibly predictable. And in some ways it was. Strangers show up on a creepy property. What do we expect to happen to them? But. Buuuuuut. I did not predict X would be startlingly powerful meditation on age and passion and the craving for sensation. There are so many interesting thematic points that a standard slasher film becomes so much more. X has that new wave art horror vibe to it while staying far truer to the genre’s schlocky roots. And it’s gorgeous to boot. That overhead shot of Mia Goth swimming to the dock with the alligator behind her—top 5 shots of 2022. Maybe even the best. Bravo to Ti West on this one.
I did not expect to put X at number 2. It’s funny because I think Barbarian is more my style of film. I had a stronger superficial reaction to Barbarian, in terms of sheer entertainment. But X has stuck with me emotionally in a deeper way than Barbarian. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re both fantastic. We’re splitting hairs here. I just think X was a bit more literary. And how it explored its themes a bit more daring.
Holy hell. This is a mess. A shocking mess. It’s like…the first Knives Out was carefully crafted. Nuanced, thoughtful, fascinating. While Glass Onion is a cartoon. It treats the audience like a bunch of children. It feels more akin to Mama Mia! Here We Go Again than it does to Knives Out. The main commonality is, of course, Benoit Blanc, Daniel Craig’s southern detective. I know a lot of people laughed at/complained about Blanc’s accent in Knives Out but it never bothered me. However, I’m 95% convinced the accent in Glass Onion isn’t the same. And that it shifts on a scene by scene basis.
The cast of Glass Onion does a great job. Janelle Monáe is, I think, the standout. But Edward Norton gets to cut loose. Kate Hudson shows up and shows off. Dave Bautista continues to establish himself. Leslie Odom Jr. had great presence. Kathryn Hahn wasn’t given enough to do. Madelyn Cline got to make a splash. And Jessica Henwick is awesome. But they’re limited by how silly Johnson’s script is.
I can appreciate the idea of the “glass onion” and the anti-mystery. And how Glass Onion is a commentary on some current issues in America regrading people who rise to power based on false perceptions. How people like Miles only succeed because of those who enable them. If the enablers were to just…stop…then how much better would things be? I’m down for the concepts. I just was infuriated by how the plot unfolded. Instead of thinking, “Oh that was clever,” I just kept thinking, “That was indulgent. That was stupid. That was indulgent. That was stupid. That was indulgent and stupid.” I wrote about it: here
So Glass Onion ends up ranking a lot lower than it probably should just because of how good Knives Out was and how much of a step down this is.
THE ADAM PROJECT
When The Adam Project first came out, I ignored it. Mostly because I have zero faith in Netflix originals. But, my therapist told me to watch it. And she’s typically right about everything. Sure enough, she was right again. I’ve been a fan of Ryan Reynolds since Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place. He was so damn charismatic. Then Van Wilder was pretty much the funniest thing 16 year old me had ever watched (though I tried re-watching it recently and yeowch). So I’m always interested in anything Reynolds does. Sometimes it works really well. Like Deadpool and Waiting. But other times, you get watered down, boxed-in Reynolds—The Proposal, 6 Underground. I wasn’t sure what we’d get here. But Adam Project is like…everything I love about Reynolds. It’s him getting to be hilarious and cool and emotional and poignant. Then what a debut for Walker Scobell as 12-year-old Adam. The chemistry between him and Reynolds was crazy. His confidence and deliveries had me completely bought-in. And Zoe Saldaña just stole every moment she was on screen.
What’s interesting is that Adam Project is essentially a theatrical way of demonstrating a therapy technique called inner child work. The idea there is that we’re made up of layers of our previous selves. So if you’re 30 years old, the high school version of you is still inside you. The 8-year-old who spent hours at the arcade. Or the 12-year-old who sat alone on the bus. Or the 24-year-old who was scared to move out of the house. Or the 19-year-old who wanted to conquer the world. These people continue to affect us, whether we’re aware of it or not. So inner child work asks you to engage with these younger yous. Sometimes that’s you trying to soothe them. Sometimes it’s them soothing you. But what we see between Adam and Adam is absolutely a defamiliarization of inner child work.
As someone who lost my dad when I was 20, Adam Project hit very hard. Cool movie.
About Time is one of those movies where the story was just okay but the impact of the movie is actually kind of important. The whole premise of Domhnall Gleeson being able to time travel is just a parable exploring our relationship with time and mortality. It may seem like Tim has a leg up since he can actively go back in time and make adjustments, but we all kind of get to do that. It’s just growing from experience. When you look at what happens in About Time as metaphoric rather than literal, it becomes very instructive. Like Tim’s multiple “first” encounters with Mary can simply be looked at early days of going on multiple dates. Some are amazing. Some are awkward. But you figure it out and find your stride and, if it’s meant to be, it works. And About Time‘s ultimate lesson is just appreciating each day and moment for what it is. Paying attention, being present, and being thankful, even when things are less than ideal. When you can give yourself the space to admire the fact you’re alive and experiencing anything at all, there’s a lot of peace and beauty to be found.
So I was very charmed by About Time. It had a lot of clever stuff. Was funny and sweet and emotional. But there was a lot of cheesy stuff (like the climactic father-son beach walk was so silly I went from crying to rolling my eyes). And some of it felt a bit rushed. And there were a lot of questions I had about the whole time travel thing that I never got answers to. But the whole of it was unique and enjoyable. And Rachel McAdams is just one of the most charming actors of the 21st century. Her screen presence is so powerful. Steals the show in pretty much every movie she’s in. Bill Nighy also did a marvelous job.
American Psycho is such a mesmerizing movie because it’s outrageously stupid yet unbelievably smart. It’s a dark comedy masterpiece. But also prescient in a way that’s terrifying. It’s dissection of the Wall Street ethos that dehumanizes the individual and elevates empty superficiality is even more relevant in 2022 than it was in 2000. It’s a feminist work in the guise of a masculine fantasy that pits empathy against selfishness. We see what the end result is when empathy’s not just rejected but actively destroyed. You get a culture of immense narcissism, petty competition, and no sense of ethics or morality. Consequences disappear. And what then?
And Christian Bale’s performance has to be one of the best comedic performances of all time, right? Is that crazy to think? Especially on re-watches, when you’re in on the joke and know Bateman’s just regurgitating bs statement after bs statement. Every time he says “I have to return some videotapes,” I die.
Like Fight Club, American Psycho is one of those films where it’s a criticism of consumerism hidden in the plight of someone who is an extreme byproduct of consumerism. Except not everyone sees the irony. Not everyone sees the denouncement, the “Don’t be like this jerk.” Some take it literally in all the wrong ways. Which is a shame. The last few years has already seen pushback on the legacy of Fight Club. I wonder if we’ll see the same with American Psycho before the end of the decade?
DECISION TO LEAVE
I think Park Chan-wook is fantastic. The Handmaiden was such a mesmerizing and interesting film. I’ve been looking forward to his next project ever since. Alas, Decision to Leave just didn’t do enough for me. It’s very compelling. Fascinating. With awesome lead performances from Park Hae-il and Tang Wei. I was completely invested in what was happening. But by the end of the film, I just had an overwhelming feeling of “That’s it?”
I think my most consistent narrative complaint is how often stories end up only being two acts. Typically, narratives fall into some derivation of the three act structure. Not the traditional “beginning, middle, end”. Rather, it’s inciting action, escalation, consequences. Most of the page count/runtime is spent on the inciting action and escalation. But, too often, stories overlook the third act. A conclusion to the escalation isn’t always, or even often, good enough. The thing is, it’s hard to talk about the consequences. Especially since the escalation is the longest and most thrilling part of the story. By the time you write your way to that point, you’re ready to be done. It’s like someone getting to the end of a marathon and you ask them to run another few miles. Or you fly across the country just to be told you have to get back on the plane and go somewhere else. Part of you really wants to say, “You know what? I’m good here.”
Most of the time, the consequences section just has to be a few minutes. Five. Ten. Fifteen. That’s it. Sometimes, it’s less than five minutes. Lion King returning to the the opening scene and the song “Circle of Life” playing is the perfect, one-minute consequences end cap. Jurassic Park showing the characters on the helicopter and Dr. Grant sits with the kids after he’s spent the movie rejecting being a parent—that’s consequence. It’s brief. It’s seemingly unimportant, but it’s tremendously important. There Will Be Blood having the flash forward and the final showdown between Daniel Plainview and Eli—incredible. Triangle of Sadness having the entire island sequence—also incredible.
Decision to Leave had a time jump but it felt to me more like a continuation of the dance between Hae-Jun and Seo-rae. The way they parted wasn’t the climactic event between them, rather just a pause in the action. By the end of Decision to Leave, that’s climax. That’s shattering. Now I’m completely invested in what happens next with Hae-Jun. Except the movie gives us nothing. It just ends. You know he’s going to be in a bad place. But what does that mean? What does that look like? Is it possible for him to ever recover? Maybe? Maybe not? That’s what the whole thing builds up to. It’s also what Chan-wook decided to not explore.
So what’s there is very nice and well done and interesting. I just feel like the script could have used someone pushing for Chan-wook to go a little further with the story. Like No Country For Old Men continuing on with Tommy Lee Jones. Imagine if Full Metal Jacket ended after the drama between Gomer Pyle and Gunnery Sergeant Hartman? Instead, it continues for a whole second section. I just keep thinking, “Ten more minutes. That’s all it needed was ten more minutes.”
Wakanda Forever just kind of bored me. The specter of Chadwick Boseman’s loss definitely hangs over the film. Both narratively and emotionally. Emotionally, I thought they did a nice job of honoring Chadwick and not just moving on but allowing the characters and the audience a chance to mourn and find some catharsis. Narratively, eh. The opening scene with T’Challa’s passing was, I thought, pretty rough. Poor contextualizing. Too quick. It just felt anti-climactic to me. Everything was a bit anti-climactic. Talokan was a great concept, but the actual shots were murky and kind of failed to convey a sense of place, culture, or population. Some kids kicked a ball through part of a giant anchor? And someone else looks at a vase? And a girl waves at Shuri. Okay? Ironheart was a cool concept but she doesn’t do much. The Midnight Angel armor is joked about more than it’s actually used in battle.
Then Namor’s motivation never landed for me. He’s determined no one finds Takolan because he’s scared of what will happen. But everything he does only increases the likelihood Takolan is discovered and viewed as a threat. You might be able to chalk that up to total diplomatic ignorance because he’s literally isolated from the rest of the world. Except he seems very aware of world politics and is never shown to be ignorant, just a fierce protector. We’re never even shown where the vibranium mining that freaked him out so much is relative to Takolan. Was it literally right above them? Was it across the ocean? I guess “close enough” is the simple answer. I just didn’t think the movie did a good job of showing Namor was right to be worried or aggressively idiotic. It landed in some nebulous middle area that I wasn’t satisfied with.
Namor’s action sequences were awesome, though. He’s a literal sky walker. All of his action sequences conveyed a strong sense of power, intelligence, and superiority. Something I never really got from other characters. Nakia didn’t do much, action wise. M’Baku beat grunts and that’s it. Okoye had some cool moments but was limited by her repetitious boss fight. Ironheart didn’t get to do much. Even Shuri as Black Panther just had a couple of moments. Most of the spectacle of being a superhero went to Namor.
So it’s like…I didn’t get much from the action. I was pretty frustrated by the way Namor and Shuri were handling their business. And I just missed Chadwick the entire time. Angela Bassett as Ramonda was kind of the best part of the movie to me then she drowns in what I thought was a completely silly situation. I appreciated the heaviness of Wakanda Forever. But the actual narrative choices and scene by scene decision making was just too rough to me. Better than a lot of other Phase 4 films, so far. But not great. Or even good? Just okay.
For months, I heard nothing but great things about RRR. But I was mad at the recent quality of Netflix programming so refused to watch. Finally bit and the bullet and what a movie! I didn’t realize it was going to be such an epic. Nor that it would use a twist on the “unstoppable force meets an immovable object” concept. Raju being the unstoppable force and Bheem embodying the immovable object. I love both actors. The charisma of Ram Charan and N. T. Rama Rao Jr was off the charts. It kind of felt like a TV show in terms of how the chapters played out. Or a novel. The fact it took so much time to develop its characters and story and really build to the finale was refreshing. Too many movies are scared to take the time they need so end up rushing everything and falling flat. Bravo to S. S. Rajamouli for having the heart to make RRR.
The thing that impressed me most was how much RRR cared about the elemental relationships. It grounds Raju in fire and Bheem in water. Most Hollywood films never really identify characters with elements or archetypes like that. Much less continue to reinforce the dynamic throughout the course of the story. RRR brings back the fire and water aspect in spectacular ways like during the first Raju/Bheem fight on the palace grounds. But also in subtle ways like in the jungle when Bheem uses water for cover and Raju employs fire arrows. I just came home from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever about an hour ago and it completely lacked any kind of additional layering like this. Not to say every action movie needs to be as bombastic as RRR. But there are ways to subtly add dimensionality that very few films take advantage of.
Holy hell. What an experience. I expected it to be good but didn’t know it would be that good. Hilarious. Awkward. Provoking. It goes beyond just being a satire of wealth and becomes an essential explanation of economic structures and the archetypes found within them. It has that same amazing energy and insight as Parasite but through a totally different kind of narrative. Instead of feeling derivative of Parasite or inspired by it, it’s simply familial. Two like-minded projects that put a scathing spotlight on economics. Amazing.
I’m seeing Triangle of Sadness after watching some of the worst movies I’ve seen all year. What’s funny is that it’s not that much longer than them. 149 minutes versus 124 for Black Adam, 111 for Halloween Ends, 116 for Uncharted, 115 for Smile. So a solid 30-40 minutes. Yet it felt shorter to me. It never dragged. It never waned. I was fully engaged and entertained and ready to see what happened next. While Black Adam, Halloween Ends, Uncharted, and Smile were interminable. They feel almost silly in comparison. Triangle just has a heft and intensity about it that I never got from the other films. Triangle of Sadness reminded me what it’s like to feel happy while watching a movie.
Another train wreck. But. To be fair. Aldis Hodge as Hawkman and Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate were amazing. I’d watch a movie that was just those two hanging out. Hodge had a gravity and star power that exceeded even Dwayne Johnson. Put him in the MCU and he’s immediately the most interesting on-screen presence. He was awesome in Invisible Man, too.
Aldis Hodge aside…I was blown away by how much I disliked Black Adam. Very similar to Halloween Ends, I just hated most of everything. For example, in the opening scene you have all this Kahndaqians digging for Eternium. Someone finds a stone. Little Hurut takes the stone, runs up a cliff, and holds it aloft. He’s HIGH UP ON A CLIFF. With no context. He doesn’t yell, “We found Eternium!” or anything. Just arrives on the cliff, holds this relatively small stone aloft to thousands of people who could barely see him, and they all immediately return the gesture? This is the first time in history anyone has done this. And yet this entire group of people knows exactly how to respond? It’s nonsense. I get “suspend disbelief” but you’re supposed to suspend disbelief for things like “a werewolf exists” or “stones like Eternium exist.” Not for things like “Everyone just knew what the kid was doing and what it meant and returned the gesture without hesitation.”
If it were just that scene that had something stupid like that, fine. I could get over it. But it’s pretty much every scene. Over and over again the filmmakers made decisions that looked logic straight in the face and spit in its eye. I love the fact that this Crown of Sabbac has been undiscovered for 5,000 years but one archaeologist, her brother, and two random guys who seemingly add nothing to the group, manage to locate it. With the sole purpose of hiding it so no one else can find it. No one had found it. So why are you finding it? Why did the Shazam wizards imprison Black Adam only to put the exact words needed to free him right there on the door of the prison? And how ridiculous is it that the Justice Society takes Shazam from Kahndaq to an underwater prison way the hell away from Kahndaq, go immediately back to Kahndaq, only to have Black Adam break free from the prison and return to Kahndaq? That was honestly the best decision anyone could come up with? Ugh.
Don’t get me started on the scene where Ishmael becomes Sabbac. The demons and their speech and the only ceremony was the stupidest thing I’ve seen all year. AND THE SLOW MOTION. Zack Snyder can get away with it because it’s his style. In Black Adam, it’s like they said “Do the thing Zack Snyder does so the Snyder fans like this movie” but didn’t understand any of the artistry of using slow-mo. Every shot of Cyclone using her power didn’t have to be the exact same thing every single time with just gratuitous and ham-fisted slow-motion thrown in.
Jesus H. Christ. How the hell did we get here? Halloween (2018) was a good movie! It exceeded expectations and rejuvenated what had become a pretty sad franchise. But Halloween Kills and Ends are two of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Garbage-tier story. Garbage-tier dialogue. Ridiculous flashback and montage choices. Every character motivation struck me as either nonsensical or outright stupid. I’d never guess this film was made by the same people who do such amazing work on Righteous Gemstones and Vice Principals. I like David Gordon Green. I like Danny McBride. I think they’re genuinely smart, creative, and talented people. So why the f*** did they make this?
It’s infuriating. I’m angry. Legitimately angry. It would be one thing if it were just a bad movie. But the only thing worse than a bad movie is a long, bad movie. And this is unreasonably long. The entire subplot with Corey and Allyson is ridiculously inconsequential. It hints at a next generation or even a merging of the conflicting sides of Laurie and Michael. The relative of one, the chosen prodigy of the other. You could do something interesting with that concept. But what’s it amount to in this movie? Allyson gives Corey a license to go full Michael. Has no consequences for encouraging his actions. And then celebrates Michael’s demise. It’s nonsense. It’s superficial, ill-thought-out nonsense.
I’ve seen Blow Out a few times and have always loved it. It was playing at my local theater so I went to see it on the big screen for the first time. I brought a friend. For a few days, I kept telling her how much she’d like it. We got to the theater. The movie started. And I was immediately kind of embarrassed. I forgot just how 1980s Blow Out is. The male characters are these active, empowered figures. While the female characters…leave a lot to be desired. It’s been almost a decade since I last watched it so seeing it with fresh eyes was kind of jarring. The filmmaking is still very patient, dynamic, and impressive. And the way in which Blow Out captures the political paranoia of the time is impressive. It also stood out how relevant John Travolta’s need for truth is in today’s misinformation society. The climactic scene with Travolta, Nancy Allen, and fireworks is still one of the greatest shots I’ve ever seen in my entire life. And the last scene is still one of the best finale’s of any story.
The ending is so good that my friend who hated the movie actually dropped her jaw and started saying how she needed to re-evaluate the entire thing. It’s seriously impressive and is such a huge statement about the American zeitgeist. Man. It gives me goosebumps even talking about it.
If I had ranked Blow Out before re-watching it, I’d probably have put it in at least the Impressive category or even in Amazing. But the re-watch did leave me just a bit less impressed. There’s a whole scene where Travolta drives a car through a parade and almost runs over dozens of people. No repercussions. And Lithgow’s villain is interesting but pretty undercooked. And the dynamic between Travolta and Nancy Allen didn’t do much for me. But the last 5 minutes of the movie is 100% Colossal category worthy. But, I put it at 17 of 44. It’s below Nope because I think Nope is stronger throughout the beginning and middle (even if Blow Out is better at the end). But it’s above Bullet Train because Bullet Train never quite wowed me in some of the ways Blow Out did.
The only reason Uncharted isn’t ranked lower is because I thought the cast was charming. Otherwise, there isn’t much going right for this movie. Maybe it’s unfair, but I compare all movies like this to Pirates of the Caribbean and how inventive that film (and series) was with set-pieces and the twists and turns in regard to the treasure hunting. I at least hoped the mystery, puzzles, or choreography would be more compelling. But nothing ever stood out to me.
So Uncharted lands at 38 of 44. I almost put it above Doctor Strange just because I felt like Doctor Strange had more potential than it delivered on. But kept Multiverse of Madness ahead because there were a few moments that genuinely made me happy. Uncharted was far more bland. I have it above Smile though because Smile was far more disappointing to me. I think Smile arguably the better movie but it’s also, I think, far more predictable, dragged out, and thematically kind of insulting with what it says about trauma.
Smile frustrated me for two reasons. First, it’s predictable. Smile tells you in the very first scene what will happen: possession, several days of this thing taunting you, then it attacks, takes you out, and moves on to whoever witnessed. So when we see Rose go through that exact situation…it takes away a lot of the suspense. Especially when we know it doesn’t actually hurt anyone until it actually hurts someone. So all the scary appearances lack stakes because they aren’t actually accomplishing anything other than freaking Rose out. And Rose is already freaked out. So a lot of the movie just had me waiting for something actually compelling to happen.
And the second issue is that the symbolism is kind of insulting. The demon is symbolic for trauma. Every person it possesses has had some kind of traumatic experience. The demon feeds on that pain then escalates the person’s stress and pain through its manipulations. Once they’re ripe, it devours them. Except when you are so explicit in making the movie a metaphor for trauma and dealing with trauma and have all these characters who have suffered trauma as the victims of the monster, it can take on the thematic implication that “Once you’ve experience trauma, it will ruin you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually it will overwhelm you.” As someone who lost both of my parents by the time I was 25 and has lived with that for almost two decades…f*** off? It’s one thing if the movie shows how trauma can overwhelm a specific person. But Smile takes a step further and seems to be saying “This is what trauma is.” Sure, for some. But not everyone.
So I have Smile at 39 of 44, in the Negatives category. It’s well acted. Decently shot. And the monster design is cool and the last few minutes definitely visually compelling. But the mystery element, narrative structure, and thematics left me wanting a lot more. Especially after seeing Barbarian. Barbarian was so dynamic while Smile was more by the numbers. I will say, as harsh as I’ve been, the birthday party scene was one of the cringiest (in a good way) scenes I think I’ve ever watched. That was really well done. If the film had continued to chain together sequences as jarring as that, it would be a lot higher. The reason I put it below Uncharted is because I just felt better at the end of Uncharted than I did the end of Smile. But I have Smile above Minions because Minions is the most corporate-pleasing movie I’ve ever seen and Smile at least has personality, despite my frustrations.
HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL.
Honk For Jesus reminded me of the mockumentary Best in Show. Both films poke fun at their subject matter and capture how the people involved are pretty cooky. Except Best in Show clearly has a fondness for its subjects. Honk For Jesus does not. What starts out as light hearted quickly turns to a lampooning of megachurch leaders. And it makes sense. The people in Best in Show are dog show owners who care a lot about their dogs. The weird things they do are funny but ultimately pretty harmless. They aren’t hurting anyone. The same can’t be said for religious leaders who use their pulpit to amass wealth and trample over others. It’s a huge issue. And one that’s been talked about for decades without anything really changing. Just in the cinematic world, you have films like Primal Fear in the 90s, Spotlight in the 2010s, and now Honk For Jesus. This isn’t new information. But it’s a story that deserves being told as many times and in as many ways as necessary.
Writer/director Adamma Ebo does an amazing job with her debut feature. It looked and felt like a veteran project. Well-shot, multiple viewpoints, some great vignettes. Not to mention the performances. Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown put on a masterclass in Honk For Jesus. The mixture of power and subtly they both deliver is captivating. And the way they peel back layers over time. Honestly, some of the best performances of the entire year.
In terms of ranking, Honk For Jesus lands in the Positives category, at 20 of 43. That might be a bit surprising, given how much I praised the movie. Really, I don’t have much in the way of criticism. The ranking mostly has to do with the scope. As entertaining and well made as it is, there wasn’t a scene or stretch that had me on the edge of my seat or dropped my jaw or made me want to applaud. It was a bunch of smart moments. Which is nice but just not quite enough for me. That’s why it ends up ahead of movies like Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero and Vengeance—I do think it’s more consistently impressive throughout. But it’s below things like Prey and Bullet Train because those surprised me a bit more.
This will be a controversial one.
I saw so many positives comments about Pearl that I went in pretty excited. But minute by minute, my enthusiasm waned. Let me start by saying Mia Goth did an amazing job. Incredible performance. From her and Tandi Wright. And Ti West and Eliot Rockett made a gorgeous film with awesome visual after awesome visual. But the story. Sigh. Here’s the thing. Pearl is trapped and resentful and she’ll eventually snap. We know that will happen. If you’ve watched a few horror movies, you know exactly what will happen. All that’s left is: how long will it take? how interesting is the journey to that point? and, once it happens, how bad is it? From my perspective, the answers, in order, are: too long, not so much, and not that bad. When the movie ended, I was just kind of sitting there thinking, “That’s it?” The most obvious thing that could happen is exactly what happens and it takes all movie to happen. I find that boring. What would have been far more interesting to me is if Pearl had won the dance competition and had to head out into the world. How would she fair? How long could she pretend and hold in all the awful things she feels? There’s so many places the story could have gone. That it’s as small and contained as it is is just…eh.
So I have Pearl in the Neutral category, at 34 of 44. The performance by Goth is so strong and the visuals are so well done that I’d be crazy to give this a “negative” rating. But the stagnant and predictable storytelling was such a buzzkill that I was left incredibly lukewarm. That’s ultimately the reason I have Pearl under movies like Bob’s Burgers, Chip n’ Dale, and Thor: Love and Thunder. I found the stories in those films just a bit more dynamic and interesting. Like Chip n’ Dale having the awful OG CGI Sonic as a character delighted me in a way nothing in Pearl did. Well, that long speech Pearl gives at the end is amazing. But it was too little too late for me. Honestly, I wish the movie would have started with Pearl and Mitzy at the dinner table, with that speech, and told the story of what followed.
Barbarian is amazing. You know why? Because it f***ing goes for it. It doesn’t continuously pump the brakes or scale itself down the way some movies do. A worse movie would take Barbarian‘s opening chapter and draw it out for 90 minutes, finally reveal something, then end. And it would be infuriating. But not Barbarian. It’s smart, self-aware, dynamic, and keeps you continuously on your toes about what will happen next. Well shot. Well acted. It has the confidence to move from presenting like a John Carpenter thriller to a Quentin Tarantino dark comedy to David Fincher’s Zodiac and back to Carpenter. All while developing thematic nuance and depth. It’s not as visually impressive as something like The Witch or Hereditary. Nor is it as tricky as the original Saw. Or as gory as Evil Dead. Nor does it have a performance like Lupita Nyong’o in Us. But it’s visually impressive, tricky, gory, and has some awesome performances. So the power of Barbarian isn’t that it’s best in class in any one area so much as it’s a top performer in every area. I loved every second of it.
I put Barbarian at number 1 on the list. The main reason it goes above Fire of Love is that there’s more to chew on. Fire of Love has a cool story that’s well told and structured but is pretty simple and bittersweet. The main thing it has going for it is the visuals are so insane and incomparable to anything most people have ever seen. Barbarian doesn’t have the same spellbinding imagery but the story is so weird and jarring and unlike 99% of movies that I got a similar amount of delight as I did from the volcanoes in Fire of Love. And I’m just a sucker for chapter stories like this. There’s a great John Hawkes film called Too Late that is similarly chapter-y and one of my favorites from the last 2010s. More popular than Too Late is something like Pulp Fiction. Or Magnolia. Ooh, City of God too.
If you want to ask why I like Barbarian more than a specific movie on this list (like Nope), feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll let you know. Did not expect to love this movie. But this is where we’re at.
I saw the original Austrian version of this film back in 2014 and I remember thinking it was okay but not anything I’d ever watch again. Then this remake came out. So I watched it again. Which was a pretty huge mistake on my part. This version of Goodnight Mommy was just such a let down. Not even a let down, a damn disappointment. At least the original movie dared to be somewhat shocking and eerie. This was so neutered and spineless. The attempts at horror were elementary. Sometimes even insulting. Once I remembered what the twist was, the entire movie fell apart because everything Naomi Watts does as “Mommy” was pretty much the stupidest thing she could do. It’s weird, too, how the whole premise relies on an unspoken deal the mom made to play along with Elias’s mental illness. At least in Shutter Island the whole experiment is based on a medical hypothesis and carried out by medical professionals. In Goodbye Mommyit’s almost nonsense.
With all that said, Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti did great work as Elias and Lucas. And Naomi Watts is as engaging as ever. But man, the script did them absolutely zero favors. It took a pretty good original story and turned the volume down to “mute”. That’s why Goodnight Mommy enters the rankings at 38 of 39 and takes up residency in the I Hate category. If you’re going to remake an 8 year old movie, you don’t make it worse. You heighten it. You go further. You push the envelope. I’m blown away by how cowardly this movie is. Especially the finale in the barn. It’s melodramatic pseudo-tragedy born on the waves of bad exposition. The only reason it’s higher than Inland Empire is because it’s half the runtime.
Breaking is a noble undertaking, as it brings attention to the true story of Brian Brown-Easley. What you see happen in the movie is mostly verbatim what happened in real life. A former veteran was driven to extremes by the government’s failure to support him. It’s a sad headline that repeats many times a day, every single day. American military veterans aren’t given the care they need. They aren’t given the opportunities. It’s brutal. And Brian Brown-Easley is an example of just how messed up it is. So there’s a lot to admire about Breaking and the care with which the filmmaker, Abi Damaris Corbin, handled the story. You feel for Brian. There’s multiple tragedies that occur. The whole cast does a great job, especially John Boyega and Nicole Beharie. I teared up every time Michael K. Williams was on screen.
But I ended up ranking Breaking at number 32 of 39, near the bottom of the Neutral category. I admire what it went for and how true to life it stayed. But it was more contained than I wanted. Never quite found a scene that soared. Like, Fruitvale Station is a similar movie in terms of scope, scale, and tragedy. It’s the last day in the life of Oscar Grant III. So you follow Grant in his day to day life before he arrives at Fruitvale Station and has a fatal encounter with some awful police officers. You have that same sense of someone who is a victim of a careless system that unnecessarily took their life. When the scene happens in Fruitvale Station, it’s a gut punch. You’re miserable. Or the movie Detroit. Another true story about police corruption and the victims of a horrible system. It really dives into the multiple layers and fallout of the story and paints this broad portrait of the time, place, and people. You see that reflected in the runtime of 143 minutes compared to Breaking‘s 103.
I wanted Breaking to explore more of the fallout of Brian’s story or at least have one scene that had me wanting to scream at the screen. But it doesn’t quite take those risks. Like you have a scene where Connie Britton follows up on a tip about how the VA really did cheat Brian. But it’s quick and nothing comes of it. Even if it’s just a scene or two where we see Britton try to follow up on the story and get stonewalled or meet with Brian’s ex-wife and try to provide some comfort that Brian was cheated. Or hear the hostages give an interview where they defend Brian and call out the police. Essentially what I’m talking about is a stronger third act. Breaking spends a lot of time in acts one and two. But blows through act three, treating it more as a last few minutes of epilogue. Unless act three has the explosiveness Fruitvale Station had, it’s bound to feel a little anticlimactic. And when the second act stretches out as long as it does, there were moments of boredom.
So, I’d still recommend Breaking but I’d do so with the caveat that it’s good but not ever as good as you hope it will be.
THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING
Three Thousand Years of Longing will resonate with a ton of people. Truth is, there are many lonely people in the world. And this is a story for them. It hears them, sees them, and speaks back to them. And there’s something lovely about that. And something each and every person can identify with on some level. But it’s also a very patient movie. So much so that some will accuse it of being a bit narratively stagnant. The present day characters go from a hotel in Istanbul to an apartment in London to a park. And the stuff in London moves awfully quick. The defense is that it’s a movie about story. About connection through story. About the stories we tell ourselves and what we choose to tell others and what that says about who we are. So having characters who do very little but say an awful lot is a choice rather than an oversight. It’s just a matter of how effective the choice is. If you’re identifying with the characters at all, you probably don’t mind it. Though for others it will be the thing that keeps them from being able to identify with the characters.
I’m torn about how I feel. It reminds me of Big Fish and Shape of Water, two films I recognize the charm of but also don’t really work for me. And this feels similar. There’s a lot of beauty and it’s a movie for people who don’t often have movies made for them. A love letter to the solitaries. But I wanted just a bit more. The Djinn’s stories are interesting but I didn’t find them as satisfying as the ones in Big Fish or backstory-driven movies like Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And the romance between “fire” and “dust” was sweet but maybe not as well-developed as in Shape of Water. I thought the sudden statements on technology and British racism a bit jarring in how quickly they came and went.
It is nice that there’s a layered interpretation of events (similar to Pan’s Labyrinth). There’s the fairy tale interpretation where the story plays out exactly as Alithea tells it. There’s also a realistic interpretation where this is merely Alithea’s imagination. She’s a narratologist who finds the inspiration in Istanbul to write a novel. So she does. She imagines the Djinn. Creates him through story. Draws him. Just like she did her imaginary friend from childhood. And in telling herself the story of the Djinn, she finds comfort. The story is enough.
But I’m still not sure if I think that’s enough. I keep comparing it to the father-son dynamic in Big Fish and how that movie explores grief and closure and all these other things through the stories a parent tells a child. And how where we’re at in our lives can affect the impact of those stories. There’s multiple dimensions. And a lovely journey within the stories themselves. In Three Thousand Years of Longing…eh. Alithea starts pretty happy. Becomes happier. And ends happy. I’m not sure it develops her isolation enough because it spends so much time telling us about the Djinn. If you’re willing to just go where the movie wants you to go, I think this will be special. But if you want a bit more, Three Thousand Years of Longing will leave you wanting.
So it enters at the top of the Neutral category, spot 25 of 36. I think it’s similar to Death on the Nile in that both are strongly directed movies by well-established auteurs (Kenneth Branagh and George Miller) but are a tad too drawn out and maybe a bit unsatisfying in their final acts. But Three Thousand Years of Longing is the more daring of the two. And has more potential to really connect with someone. So that’s why it’s higher. In terms of Fresh, Three Thousand Years has the larger scope and better visuals. That alone will rank it higher for some people. But narrative momentum wins out for me here. Fresh carried me along better. So while I admire a lot of Three Thousand Years, especially visually, I wanted a bit more story.
This was my first time watching Inland Empire. I’d wanted to for years and always expected it to be my favorite David Lynch movie. A three hour epic that’s the last film he ever made and is incredibly controversial? That’s essentially my cat nip. Unfortunately, I hated Inland Empire more than I’ve hated any movie in a long time. I can watch something surreal like Last Year at Marienbad and be enthralled the whole time. I can watch La Jetée and find so much beauty. Lav Diaz’s has a 4.5 hour remake of Crime and Punishment called Norte, the End of History and it’s one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. But Inland Empire just infuriated me.
It felt like someone trying to figure out what they wanted to say as they were saying it rather than a cohesive, fully realized statement. I get how that would appeal to some people. You’re essentially seeing David Lynch at his most raw. Story is secondary to feeling. But, holy hell. The meandering is just outrageous. Even when there are a few payoffs, are they really worth it? To Lynch’s credit, he has a few overall arcs and does bring each of them to a resolution: the woman watching TV, the rabbits in the room, Nikki’s talk with the neighbor, and the filming of On High in Blue Tomorrows. You do get a sense of this very complicated, immense thing, coming full circle and finding a way to resolve its various inciting actions. So as messy as the film is, Lynch still has a better handle on the chaos than many might give him credit for.
And cinematically, Inland Empire has Lynch’s one of a kind aesthetic. The odds of seeing another movie like this is slim to none. The different types of cameras employed throughout. The dream-like quality. The headfirst dive into a more pure surrealism many filmmakers would never dare attempt. No one is as “I don’t care what you think, f*** off” as Lynch. And he’s still a master at finding ways to make things truly unsettling. So it’s easy to have some emotional responses to aspects of the movie that it’s hard to get elsewhere.
With all that said, I hated it. Just very much hated it. If I wasn’t angry, I was bored. The cinematography did nothing for me. The acting did nothing for me. The dialogue did nothing for me. There were a few spots I felt some energy. Like the conversation with the neighbor. Or Nikki fallen between the homeless people and the conversation they have around her and the look into the lighter. That was cool. Or the weird, terrifying face when the Phantom becomes some weird hallway monster. But those were very brief moments in the totality of Inland Empire. At its best, Inland Empire could have been Mulholland Drive meets Perfect Blue. But the actual result is nothing as fully formed as Mulholland Drive or Perfect Blue.
I had the impression Lynch was dealing with two issues. One, processing previous marriage and relationship woes but from the perspective of his partners, attempting to understand them and his behavior through their eyes. Two, his falling out of love with movies. So he just kept ping ponging between the two and eventually attempted to dovetail them. There’s definitely something to that. Just not for me.
Inland Empire enters the last at the very bottom, 35 out of 35 and is the lone movie in the I Hate category. I have it below Morbius because Morbius only wasted 104 minutes of my life rather than 180.
Beast deserves more praise. It’s not as elevated a take on horror as The Witch but it has a craftsmanship many a genre film lacks. Part of that has to do with director Balthasar Kormákur being 56 years old and an outsider to the horror genre. Obviously that in and of itself isn’t good or bad. There are plenty of outsiders who attempt genre and fail completely. Just like there are plenty of younger filmmakers who live and breathe horror but make something generic as hell. But watch any 5 minute stretch of Beast and hopefully you notice how patient Kormákur is. The average shot length is way beyond average. Beast actually lets scenes breathe. I know shot length bothers some people as they think it’s indulgent or try-hard or something. But, to me, it’s superior. There’s a direct correlation between immersion and shot length. Just compare the fight scenes in The Batman vs The Dark Knight. No matter which one you think is the better movie, the amount of cuts Nolan has in a Dark Knight action scene is silly. It makes the action almost entirely incoherent. Which may have worked in The Bourne Identity as an attempt at form-meets-function. But, for the most part, it’s something that automatically loses my respect.
So the visual aspect makes Beast one of the more interesting films of the year. Narratively, Beast is a genre film. So there’s not a lot of surprise in terms of the story beats. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. But I thought Beast made the best of it. You have the thematic through line with the lion representing the specter of death that haunts the family after the loss of their mom. Idris Elba wasn’t around much during his wife’s battle with cancer and says at one point he wishes he could have been there for his girls to look death in the face. So the lion represents the dad and daughters confronting an incarnation of the mother’s cancer. Good. Great. This is the stuff I want. Whether it’s The Babadook or Lights Out or Hereditary, I like when horror defamiliarizes like this.
All of this is why I’m a Beast defender. I will tell people for the rest of my life that this is an underrated movie they should check out. In terms of the all-time ranking, it lands at 13 of 34, in the Really Good category. I put it below Crimes of the Future because CotF has just a bit more going on and I liked how weird it was. Beast is arguably the more fun watch, though. Some people will probably be upset that I have Beast about Northman and Nope. My main issue with Nope is that I think it ends in a very unsatisfying spot and doesn’t follow through narratively or thematically. And Northman it sloughs a bit in the middle and doesn’t develop characters enough. I think both of them have higher highs than Beast and if they stuck the landing they’re top 5 potential. Unfortunately, the flaws are too great for me. But Beast is impressive enough visually and doing enough thematically that I’m happy to say it’s Really Good.
DRAGON BALL SUPER: SUPER HERO
I’m a huge Dragon Ball Z fan. Started watching it when it first premiered on Toonami in the late 90s. When I was 12, I got on eBay and bought 30 VHS tapes of the Buu Saga from Japan. Not even dubbed or subbed. Just straight Japanese and watched it without understanding any of the dialogue. That’s how into DBZ I was. Love the show. Love the phone game Dokkan Battle. So Super Hero was something I anticipated for a long time. Especially after how much I loved Dragon Ball Super: Broly.
This is the fourth contemporary Dragon Ball movie. Prior, we had Battle of Gods, Resurrection of F, and Broly. Super Hero was way better than Battle of Gods. Slightly better than RoF. And not as good as Broly. I liked a lot of what it did. The characters. The humor. The fight choreography. Bringing back Cell Saga Gohan coolness. It just never felt like it had any stakes. No one was ever actually in danger. Magenta as a villain was pretty generic. Then Dr. Hedo, Gamma 1, and Gamma 2 didn’t want to be villains. So you spend most of the movie not feeling much in the way of tension. Then Cell Max appears and he’s scarier but completely devoid of personality. There’s no character there, just a giant monster to defeat. It’s nice that characters other than Goku and Vegeta got to do something. But it felt pretty empty to me. Then Gohan’s transformation into Gohan Beast was cool but he threw one kick then did Special Beam Cannon. That was it. So you have all that build up for the briefest of climaxes.
With all that said, I still put Super Hero at 17 of 33, midway in the Positives category. It’s above movies like Vengeance and Everything Everywhere mostly because of favoritism. I’m a Dragon Ball fan who got a pretty good Dragon Ball movie. The personal connection I have with the characters and story means Super Hero is more fun for me. If all else is equal, that’s a difference maker. But I have it below Prey because Super Hero just didn’t do enough. Prey is also a bit thin in its overall character building but it at least has a complete arc for its protagonist.
I’ve seen the name Koyaanisqatsi for years and years. Always in “film circle” kinds of places. You know, where you discuss the latest Criterion Collection releases and international film festivals. So I knew it was was probably an intellectual movie. Something you’d watch for film school and write some 7-page essay on. When it was playing at a local movie theater, I decided to go. But I went in pretty blind. Little did I know it would be an 86-minute art house Fantasia about the doom of civilization through humanities own folly. I love that concept. And some of the visual explorations really hit home. Especially the “night in the city” sequence and Atlas-Centaur missile explosion. But there were long sections I just didn’t really care about or connect with. And the music could often be too repetitive for too long of a period. Of course there were brilliant musical stretches but…man. I love classical, too. I’m someone who was 25 years old and had the radio on the classical station. So it’s not a lack of appreciation there. I just wanted a less static score.
So I ended up pretty torn. I respect the vision and the concept of depicting humanity’s ruin through the lens of Native American prophecy. With the title itself being a Hopi word for “crazy life; life in turmoil; life out of balance; life disintegrating; a state of life that calls for another way of living.” There’s so much power there. But I didn’t think the overall execution was as powerful as it could have been. Even though some of those shots had to have been insanely difficult to get. So I respect it. Just think it could have been more powerful.
It lands at 28 or 32, bringing up the rear of the Neutral category. Despite how impressive some of the highs were, I spent so much time just kind of bored that I couldn’t put Koyaanisqatsi in the positives category. It’s above Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness because Koyaanisqatsi has more value. But it’s below movies like Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers and The Bob’s Burgers Movie because I just found have a basic narrative more compelling than what Koyaanisqatsi offered.
The early reactions to Bullet Train had me geared up thinking it was Morbiuslevels of bad. It’s a better movie than its Rotten Tomatoes and Meta Critic scores. That’s not to say it’s some genre-defining, decade-defining work. Just that it’s well-made, well-acted, well-executed, and keeps you on your toes. It was kind of refreshing. Granted, I was a big fan of Smokin’ Aces and Lucky Number Slevinback in the day. The whole style and aesthetic of this kind of action film is Ocean’s Eleven meets Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. That slick, smart style that can feel too smart for its own good, with some over the top action sequences.
I think the cast was definitely the highlight. I love Brad Pitt. And as soon as I saw Hiroyuki Sanada I hoped for a sword fight. Sanada is just so captivating. On top of that I’m always excited to see Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. They both have such charisma that even if I don’t like a movie they’re in (Godzilla vs Kong/Savages) I still enjoy their performance. Same with Zazie Beetz.
My biggest complaint would probably be the flashbacks. They felt like the weakest part of everything. None of them landed emotionally for me. So the best case scenario is just “clever exposition.” Which can work and has worked. But that much exposition walks a line between “stylistic choice” and “not so good writing”. I think it plays better in novels than movies. Two of my favorite books, 2666 by Roberto Bolano and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, both use expositional flashback all the time. But they also have a lot more time to really dive into the scenes and build the drama and payoff. Maybe Kōtarō Isaka’s MariaBeetle novel that BulletTrain is based on does it well too. But the film version? Meh.
I’d prefer they just spend 5 minutes at the beginning playing things out a little more linearly. Start with Ladybug in Mexico at Wolf’s wedding. 1-2 minutes showing how a simple job goes wrong. Then cut to another job, 1-2, show how it goes wrong. Then show Bolivia and Lemon popping Ladybug. You cut out so much of the later exposition and allow the movie to have a little more fluidity when it counts. And it really reinforces why Ladybug is nervous about returning to the field.
Overall, though, I still really enjoyed Bullet Train. So it enters at 15 of 31, settling into the Positives category. Nope continues to be a boss fight for these movies. Bullet Train just wasn’t doing enough that was as original or nuanced as Nope so doesn’t go above it. But it definitely felt more confident and dynamic than Prey.
My favorite thing? The cast. My least favorite thing? The amount of flashback. Would I recommend? Yeah, it makes for a great “let’s put on a movie” movie for anyone who enjoys a little action and witty dialogue. And doesn’t mind an R-rating.
As a big Predator fan, I was happy Prey was good. I think it falls more under the “smart horror” genre than the action genre of Predator and Predator 2. Stylistically, it felt more like The Witch than Predator. Which isn’t a bad thing. It has the prettiest cinematography in the Predator franchise. And story-wise it’s definitely a return to form after the debatable quality of Predators and The Predator.
Two main issue keep me from jumping up and down about Prey. First, I wish they would have developed the characters a bit more. Everyone who wasn’t Naru barely got to say or do anything. And even Naru was pretty singular. I know the soldiers in Predator weren’t the deepest characters but I felt like I got to know each one better. And Danny Glover in Predator 2 had more space to react and emote.
Second, the action sequences were a little too video-game-y for me. Prey would be very grounded and naturalistic, then some action would happen and it suddenly felt like a quick time event in a video game where everything is suddenly much more cinematic and telegraphed and slick. I think you lose some of the realism that made Predator and Predator 2 so visceral. Don’t get me wrong, Prey‘s fight choreography was cool and the sequences were fun. It’s not like I’m trashing the movie. Just have some things that kept me from thinking it’s phenomenal rather than just really enjoyable.
Prey enters the charts in the Positives category, at 15 of 30. It’s below Nope because Nope has the higher highs and is a more realized film. But it’s above Vengeance because I think Prey seized opportunities a lot more than Vengeance knew how to.
My favorite thing? Predator vs Bear. My least favorite thing? The herbs that instantly drop body heat with no adverse side effects. Would I recommend it? To anyone who enjoys some horror and action, absolutely.
Fresh was a solid example of smart indie-horror. One of those calling-card movies that elevates everyone involved but isn’t quite doing enough to transcend being a genre staple. And that’s okay. It’s very similar in set-up to Get Out. It’s just about women dealing with the possessiveness of men rather than Black people dealing with White people culturally appropriating,. Watch the movies back to back and you can see how similar the set-up and twist and turn are. That’s not to take anything away from Fresh. It stands on its own by making a lot of great, bright choices. I only make the comparison to point out the difference in the sense of scope/scale. Fresh feels much smaller than Get Out. That’s really the only reason it’s as low as it is. Not so much because it had missteps—like, say, Nope—but because it was so narrow. The overall ceiling was a lot lower.
Fresh enters at 20 of 29, at the bottom of the positives category. I have it under Hustle because I think the two are similar in terms of scope and quality but I was happier while watching Hustle. The list doesn’t have a lot of happy movies at the moment, so they sometimes get the edge. Fresh is above Death on the Nile because Nile was just such an emotionally flat movie. I felt more intrigued by what would happen in Fresh than I ever did Nile.
My favorite thing? The moment the women get their revenge. My least favorite thing? How stupid Sebastian Stan was (which is thematically purposeful but man). Would I recommend? Definitely to anyone who likes smart horror and wants to see some women triumph over a jerk. Though the film might be hard to watch for some people who have been in toxic relationships.
Solid. There’s a very small genre of “front office sports movie” that I’m a pretty big fan of. Little Big League, Moneyball, Draft Day. I think that’s it? Baseball, baseball, football. So it’s nice to have an NBA entry. A lot of famous basketball movies deal with college and high school basketball. The most famous NBA-centric basketball movie involves Looney Toons and monsters. So to get something that’s grounded, visually competent, and gives an inside-look on professional basketball is cool. Like, I can’t stress enough how nice it is to see people who can actually play basketball. And it be filmed in a way that highlights the gameplay rather than tries to hide it via an infinite amount of cuts. So Hustle has a lot going for it.
And that’s before we get into the core cast. Adam Sandler’s on-screen charisma has always been his greatest weapon. And it’s as strong here as it was in early works like Happy Gilmore. Sandler himself isn’t so bombastic. Definitely different energy levels. But he still has a presence that’s magnetic and endearing. Which is kind of nice after how stressful Uncut Gems was—amazing Sandler performance but had me biting my nails the entire time. I liked the whole cast. I liked the Rocky meets Draft Day story. Only criticism is the ceiling is pretty low. Narratively and visually, Hustle is very safe. It avoids a lot of mistakes and missteps. But it never really reaches.
So it enters the rankings at 19 of 28, as the anchor to the Positives category. I actually knocked Death on the Nile down to Neutral as thought the difference in enjoyment I had between Hustle and Nile was great enough that they shouldn’t be in the same category. But Hustle goes below West Side Story. Which. Hm. Now I’m wondering if I’ll eventually drop Hustle down to Neutral haha. There’s a pretty big difference in the overall highs between West Side Story and Hustle. I’ll leave it for now, as Hustle is at least unique in that you don’t see many NBA movies or this degree of on-screen athleticism. As a sports fan, that means something to me.
My favorite thing? Anthony Edwards as Kermit. My least favorite thing? Played it safe. Would I recommend? Yeah, if you like basketball it’s a fun watch. And if you like Adam Sandler, it’s just another solid entry in his overall filmography.
FIRE OF LOVE
Fire of Love is one of the most impressive movies I’ve ever seen. The visuals are out of this world. That’s because the subjects, Katia and Maurice Krafft, happened to be not only leading volcanologists but artists who used volcanos as their medium. Maurice via film. Katia via photograph. So when you have access to their entire catalogue, it’s the cinematic equivalent to Scrooge McDuck’s money vault. The movie itself is part love story, part educational, part tragedy. The structure is simple but effective and there’s enough thematic and clever editing throughout to appreciate the nuanced craftsmanship that went into Fire of Love. Sara Dosa did an amazing job.
I’m not someone who often ranks documentaries ahead of narrative features. But Fire of Love is that good. Visually, Fire of Love is such a one of a kind project that I’m not sure another movie will ever compare to it. It’s the end-all-be-all of volcano-driven films. With that in mind, it enters the rankings at 1 of 27, breaking ground on the Colossal category. While I loved that The Batman was the superhero version of David Fincher’s Seven, that’s also my biggest knock. I’m not a big fan of narrative influence being so holistic (see my criticisms of Everything Everywhere). I think The Batman is a successful example of it but when it comes to rankings it’s something I will detract for. So as good as The Batman was, I think there’s a sizable gap between it and Fire of Love.
With that said, I think the general viewing audience will like The Batman more as it is more classically entertaining. But the volcano footage in Fire of Love will impress 99% of people, whether or not they care about the story.
My favorite thing? The volcanos. My least favorite thing? What happens to Katia and Maurice. And there were a few arts and crafts insertions that I’m not sure worked aesthetically with the rest of the film. Would I recommend? Yes. Just because people should really see how insane the volcano footage is.
This was a rewatch for a definitive explanation. First time I saw Enemy, I liked it. But I wasn’t sure how much. It definitely demands multiple viewings. Which is something I like. This second time, it definitely hit a little harder. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of my favorites and the nuance of his performance is so much fun. And I’m on record as a huge fan of Denis Villeneuve. That this is essentially Villeneuve’s Fight Club is a big point in its favor. It’s taken me a bit to wrap my mind around what’s going on and how it’s presented but I finally think I got it. Excited to write the longer analysis/explanation about what’s going on. It’s confusing but not that confusing once you can get into the proper perspective. And I love the spiders being a reference to Louise Bourgeois’s work. It grounds Enemy not just in an identity crisis but a crisis between genders. There’s a lot to pull apart.
My only real knock is that the scope of Enemy is pretty small. That’s not inherently a bad thing. Sometimes it’s a great thing. I’m just drawn to larger scale films. So even though this is artsy than Fight Club, I far prefer Fight Club for the spectacle. Enemy doesn’t go into my top 3 Villeneuve but it’s a very good movie. I’ll actually have to put together my ranking of Villeneuve movies.
In terms of my all-time rankings, Enemy enters at number 5 of 26, anchoring the Impressive category. I initially had it at 4, ahead of Get Out because I think it’s a more technically impressive work. And I love movies about identity. But I think Get Out‘s scope, commentary, and impact means it wins out. So Enemy is at 5 instead of 4. It goes above Elvis as Elvis is fun but just pales to how interesting and provocative Enemy is. It’s a good example of the divide between my “Impressive” and “Really Good” rankings.
My favorite thing? Spiders. My least favorite thing? How much this fried my brain. Would I recommend it? If you’re into artsy movies about identity that challenge your ability to separate reality from subconscious “reality” then yes. Otherwise, this might be too weird for you. But it’s quick enough and Jake Gyllenhaal enough to at least give a shot.
Vengeance was enjoyable. It’s one of those movies that’s smarter than you expect so can be very charming. The major downside is I don’t think it ever shined in a specific area. You watch Sicario and the cinematography drives so much of the film. You watch Elvis and Austin Butler’s performance drives the film. You watch Blade Runner and the world building and concepts dominate the experience. Predator has an undeniable gimmick. Blood Simple, the first movie by the Coen Brothers, stands out, I think, because of how many layers and wrinkles it introduces to the story, taking something that could have been pretty straightforward and making it a bit more complicated and tangle. That’s memorable. I just wanted a bit more from Vengeance. Everything it did it did pretty well. Just nothing struck me as masterful. And that’s okay. BJ Novak made a solid, fun movie. Not everyone can do that. Especially with their first film.
It enters at 13 of 25, in the Positives category. As charmed as I was the entire time, I just want more “wow” moments. So that’s why Nope is higher. I had plenty of criticisms of Nope but it swung for the fences and when it was great, it was great. But I put Vengeance ahead of Everything Everywhere. Everything Everywhere was enjoyable but owes so much to The Matrix and Cloud Atlas without, I think, capturing the same magic as those movies. It just feels a bit more derivative than I’d like. Vengeance doesn’t so goes higher.
My favorite thing? The characters. My least favorite thing? Who the killer was was too obvious. Would I recommend it? Definitely. I don’t think it’s like a “top 10 movie of the year” kind of thing, but it’s one where people will go, “You know what was pretty good? Vengeance!”
What I loved about Get Out was that theme and narrative were hand-in-hand the entire movie. Start to finish. Us felt less consistent. Sometimes it seemed thematically driven, other times it felt just like a story with some ideas thrown in but no real purpose. And it’s fine for a movie not to have a purpose. There are plenty of amazing movies that are purely narrative with little in the way of theme. In this case, I tend to prefer extremes. Either go all in on your themes or ignore it altogether. If you get wishy-washy, it muddies viewer expectations. And Nope was very wishy-washy. There’s a lot of interesting thoughts and concepts, but they’re never culminated. In fact, I felt like they were outright abandoned. The entire story kind of devolved from this kaleidoscopic, thoughtful thing to nothing more than a showdown with a monster. And that was incredibly disappointing to me. There was so much potential for a grand, multi-faceted, existential conclusion. But we don’t get it. What we get is a fun spectacle that has a lot of value simply as a spectacle. I just wanted a stronger payoff for all the stuff in Nope‘s first hour. It’s good but could have been amazing. And I’m afraid we’re just going to keep saying that about Jordan Peele movies from now on.
Nope enters at 12 of 24, landing in the Positives category. I could easily see an argument for it being at least Really Good but right now I’m a little too frustrated to give it that. But it’s doing a lot right and is gorgeous and interesting. If only it didn’t demoralize me so much.
My favorite thing? Gordy, the chimpanzee. My least favorite thing? The ending. Would I recommend it? Yes, but with the caveat that it’s not as good as Get Out and similarly frustrating as Us.
So Morbius actually threw a wrench into the rankings. As much as I had disliked Fourth of July, it made more of an effort than Morbius, had less plot holes, and had more to say. Morbius is about as narratively cliche and superficial as you can get. But everything else was actually pretty okay? That surprised me. I expected it to be full of bad acting, poor editing, awful dialogue, etc. etc. Outside of a few moments, nothing was that egregious. But it was also never close to good. And that’s 100% on the screenwriting and Sony. At this point, I associate Sony Pictures with messy films. There are a few times they give a great director the necessary budget, like Blade Runner 2049 and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Otherwise, we’re getting things like Chappie, The Emoji Movie, The Dark Tower, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Venom, and more train wrecks . There’s the occasional Baby Driver and Into the Spider-Verse. But the amount of Morbius‘s Sony churns out is disappointing.
Morbius enters at 23 of 23, at the bottom of the Bad category. It wasn’t bad enough for me to hate. But it was also so cliched and basic that it doesn’t deserve to go ahead of any other movie on the list.
My favorite thing? Matt Smith. My least favorite thing? The mid credit and after credit scene. Would I recommend it? Not even ironically.
I’m waiting for the Robert Eggers movie that has a story that does justice to how good the visuals are. While The Northman is a classic that will absolutely appeal to a lot of people…it’s very very very familiar. It’s the basis of Hamlet, one of the most famous and influential stories ever. Knowing almost everything that was going to happen before it happens is a little bit of a drag. Doesn’t mean the movie is bad. Just means that I think it has a lower ceiling. With that said, the visuals are insane. This is 100% a visual masterpiece. Especially the final fight between Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard) and Fjölnir (Claes Bang). So bravo there.
This enters the list at 11 of 22, at the top of the Positives category. I completely understand why someone would argue it be in the Really Good or Impressive categories based on the visuals and performances alone. But I’m a story person. On the story alone, this would land in either Neutral to Negative. So I think it being atop the Positives is still a strong recommendation. Crimes of the Future is above it because of Crimes‘s originality. And Everything Everything All At Once is under it because I think Northman is the harder film to make.
My favorite thing? The final volcano fight. My least favorite thing? How drawn out the buildup is. Would I recommend? If you know and like the term “art house” then definitely.
DEATH ON THE NILE
Solid visuals. Solid performances. Solid story. But just doesn’t do anything all that well. There isn’t a big visual moment like, say, Spielberg had in West Side Story. Not a big acting moment like Austin Butler in Elvis. And the story doesn’t quite have the twists and turns of Knives Out. In fact, from the first scene that introduced Margot Robbie, Gal Gadot, and real cannibal Armie Hammer, I guessed what the reveal would be. And I was right! A mystery should never be that guessable so early. But I enjoyed the ride and did have doubts. I think there’s potential in this series, just hope they find a way to elevate. It enters at 14 of 21. It’s in the positives category but at the bottom, below Everything Everywhere All At Once, Us, and West Side Story, but above films in the neutral category like Thor: Love and Thunder and Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers.
My favorite thing? I liked Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh). My least favorite thing? The mystery. Would I recommend? Cautiously. If you’re not getting your hopes up and have some patience/tolerance for methodical stories, then you’ll probably enjoy the experience more than dislike it. But if you don’t have that patience, it might be a little painful.
This was better than I expected. Charming in all the ways you’d hope a Pixar movie would be. Even though it’s a pretty small story, it found a way to add some scope with the kaiju-panda. I appreciate that very much. Along with the thematics of coming of age and generational trauma and what it means to have a healthy relationship with our parents. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to Everything Everywhere All At Once. Just a difference in POV between the mom in Everything and the daughter in Turning Red. They actually share many of the same beats. Turning Red enters number 8 of 20. Goes above Top Gun: Maverick as I think it’s saying more while being just as fun (albeit, in an entirely different way). But it goes below Cosmpolis because I love the existential musings of Cosmopolis.
My favorite thing? All the scenes with the friends together. My least favorite thing? The cheesiness of Four Town singing to help the ritual. Would I recommend? If you like endearing, charming movies, then absolutely.
WEST SIDE STORY
I went into this only knowing that it was based on Romeo & Juliet. I’d never seen the stage performance. Or the original movie. It kind of blew my mind when I heard “I Feel Pretty” because I didn’t even know it was a West Side Story song. So it was nice to finally understand why this version of Romeo & Juliet has been so popular. Classic story with an American twist that gets at issues still plaguing the United States to this day. So it has a timeless quality to it. And really highlights a lot of the tragedy of this country when we fight with each other rather than work together. I can be back and forth on Spielberg movies. Sometime he reminds me of why he’s one of the best ever (War Horse). Other times, I’m just frustrated (Ready Player One). I feel like he really got to show off here. The shot where Bernardo (David Alvarez) and Anita (Ariana DeBose) kiss behind some hanging fabric and we see their faces through the fabric but also their shadows on the fabric…one of the best shots I’ve seen in years. Rachel Zegler and Ansle Elgort gave the charming performances the roles demanded. Mike Faist had great energy as Riff. The performers and Janusz Kaminski were competing throughout the movie for who was stealing the show. I put it in the Positives category rather than Really Good because even though I admired a lot of what went into making West Side Story, the story is just so familiar. It’s a two-and-a-half hour movie where I feel like very few things actually happen. I completely understand why other people would rate it higher though. And it’s arguable that the performances and filmmaking alone should elevate it. My favorite thing: charisma of the actors. Least favorite: songs from side characters went on for an awful long time. Recommend it: definitely.
FOURTH OF JULY
There are core narrative aspects to Fourth of July that many people can relate to: fears of being a parent, feeling different from your family, having something to say to your parents and being scared to say it, and addiction. And there will be people who truly resonate with those topics and love Fourth of July for the unique way it explores them. But not me. I was so frustrated by the acting, characters, narrative choices, and cinematography, that Fourth of July became a completely painful viewing experience. And that sucks to say. Because people worked on to make something they believed in. I don’t want to be the critic that just dismisses their effort. But, man. This movie asked more of me than it gave back. And there’s a realism to some of the choices that go against Hollywood expectations, like the father not giving Jeff (Joe List) a big speech. I can appreciate that attempt to stay real rather than go for the big emotional catharsis. But I just hated how it was handled. Which is how I felt during almost every scene. There were a few chuckles and a great moment of conflict that involves classical piano versus a family singing Billy Joel. Otherwise… not much to recommend here.
I thought they made Thor just a little too silly. Like they took his personality and turned the dial up on all the goofier aspects. I prefer Thor from Ragnarok, Infinity War, and End Game more so than this incarnation. Just felt like the movie was a little all over the place in terms of tone. Thor’s going through existential crisis. Jane has stage 4 cancer. All the Asgardian children get kidnapped. Gorr lost his kid and is grieving in a very bad way. The story is actually a very heavy and serious thing but Taika Watiti never settles into those emotions. Which is exactly what we see with Jane. She’d rather be The Mighty Thor than accept her cancer diagnosis. And I get a lot of people will be 100% happy with this and prefer fun over serious drama. I just think the lightheartedness doesn’t do justice to what the character’s are going through. My favorite things were the screaming goats. Amazing. Least favorite thing was how much ditzier Thor was. Would I recommend it? If you’ve watched all the other MCU movies, you might as well, you know?
Mad God is genuinely an achievement. Regardless of how anyone feels about the message or bleakness or their own confusion, Mad God deserves recognition for even existing. Very few people in the world could pull off making a stop-motion film of this magnitude. Phil Tippett might be the only one. So bravo. My favorite thing was how genuinely impactful much of the imagery was. Some of those scenes will stay with me forever. My least favorite thing was how long the baby worm cried for. Would I recommend it? If you know what a cult movie is and can name one you like, then yes.
With Minions: Rise of Gru. I didn’t hate it. I also didn’t love it or even really like it. I laughed a few times. Alan Alda, Michelle Yeoh, and Taraji P. Henson all delivered. Honestly, the thing that disappointed me the most was the backstory with how the minions met Gru. I thought there’d be something more substantial than “They answered a help wanted add and wouldn’t leave.” I guess it being that stupid is charming, in a way? But I had hoped for something less actively anti-climactic. Also, they could just do a spin-off movie with Michelle Yeoh’s “Master Chow” and that would probably be better.
It surprised me. Was essentially a real good season of Stranger Things but as a movie. My favorite thing was how thematically coherent it was. Similar to Babadook or Lights Out. Least favorite thing was the image of jacked Ethan Hawke waiting at the top of the stairs that will forever haunt me. Would I recommend it? Yes.
This was my first rewatch since seeing it in theaters. And I had a similar feeling. I love the personal story of Addy and her family and the conflict with Red and what happened to them as kids. There’s beauty and tragedy to that. The filmmaking is awesome. The mix of comedy and tension is great. But once again I’m left really frustrated by the larger story being told. It’s not just what happened to Addy. She’s a small part of what is this insane government project that’s entirely glossed over. There are so many insane things to accept that it becomes hard to suspend disbelief. If it had really landed the larger story, it would be much higher. As is, it’s a good story within an absurd one.Watch on: