Home > Lists, Year in Review > 2018 IN REVIEW – The Movies In Between That I Have Seen…

2018 IN REVIEW – The Movies In Between That I Have Seen…

               

Yes, I am, indeed, very late to starting this, but despite the agony of malaise, lack of motivation, and all sorts of other emotional afflictions I’ve been facing, I am determined to get my 2018 in Review series completed by the time the Oscars are awarded, starting with the films that I considered neither enjoyable nor awful enough to put on my favorites nor my worst of the year lists! As per usual, if you don’t see the movie here, there’s a good chance that I either didn’t see it in time, hated it, or maybe even loved it! Films that are on this list are not necessarily bad, mind you, but neither are they the greatest movies of the year.

Some of them were considered among the worst of the year, but I found something to enjoy in them, nonetheless, as is the case with the first movie on the list (which isn’t organized according to quality but rather release date within the US). Some of them either received widespread accolades or were loved by many, but I found them lacking in some way to not put it on my favorites list. Perhaps I found them boring or severely overrated? Three of the films on this list were nominated for Best Picture for multiple ceremonies, after all. Regardless, I hope you enjoy reading this list, even if I found none of them superlatively great nor bad. Please excuse the roughness due to aforementioned afflictions…

The Cloverfield Paradox                               2/04/18

The third film in the Cloverfield anthology quite literally kicked off the new year with a rather bizarre marketing gamble, airing its first trailer during Super Bowl LII and announcing that it would be making its streaming debut on Netflix right after the game. Not being a fan of football, I only learned about this from the internet, of course, and thus spent the rest of the night checking up every now and then to see if the game was finally over so I could finally lay into the surprise follow-up to arguably one of 2016’s best films, 10 Cloverfield Lane. Sadly, The Cloverfield Paradox, a film Paramount sold to Netflix for $50 million in order to ensure better earnings than the a likely box office bomb they could have had on their hands, was not nearly as great as either of its predecessors. Most critics hated it, and many people felt as though they had been cheated by the gonzo marketing scheme and the lure of the shoe-horned franchise name. With Netflix recently announcing it’s raising membership fees in 2019, they’ve probably only added fuel to the fire after paying that amount, too. The film is inarguably a messy one that just barely gets by on a talented cast and the question of just how it ties into the other two films – if at all – but be that as it may, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a lot of fun watching the mess unfold. Perhaps I would’ve been more picky had I paid to see it, but since it’s already there… eh?

Early Man            2/16/18 81%

I’ve never been nearly as big a fan of Aardman as a lot of animation enthusiasts are, but I’ve always looked forward to their new work, regardless. I didn’t grow up with Wallace & Gromit, but I did and still do love Chicken Run and am of the opinion that The Pirates! Band of Misfits (also known as The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! in its home turf) is severely under-appreciated, so I was, in fact, looking forward to Early Man, Chicken Run director and creator of Wallce & Gromit Nick Park’s film about a bunch of dopey cavemen taking on an army of Bronze-age soldiers in a soccer match and win the rights to stay in their homeland. While not by any means a bad film, I did find myself feeling very bored with the film and ready to leave the theatre already. (Of course, I never leave a theatre, though, not even when I’m very literally feeling physical pain as a result of the film – stay tuned…) Where some called the film’s sense of humor “gentle,” I felt it was toothless. Where some may call the film’s protagonist Dug “sweet,” I felt he was bland. There aren’t many surprises to be found in this narrative, as you know how it’s all going to play out just based on the personalities of the characters: the cavemen are stupid and innocent, and their opponents are douchebags, which means, of course, that the sweet idiots will find their courage and muster up just enough brains to eek out a triumphant win. While that can still work, sadly, I just didn’t care enough to fully enjoy the experience.

A Wrinkle in Time           3/09/18

The hype surrounding this one was so palpable that even I, having never read the source material, was pretty hyped for Ava DuVernay’s blockbuster adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 sci-fi fantasy novel of the same name (Disney’s second take on the material after their poorly received 2004 TV movie, by the way). The promise of her at the helm, mind-bending adventure, and the talented and diverse cast assembled – including Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kahling, Chris Pine, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw – were all good reasons to get excited for this film. Sadly, while what is there is more than watchable, and the film also has a great protagonist in Stormy Reid, the film’s narrative gets bogged down in the effects and whimsical philosophizing to ever register as anything more than just being pretty and interesting with occasional dips into annoying. I wasn’t expecting this movie to blow me away, but it would’ve been nice to have felt like it at least touched upon something as profound as it seems to think it does.

I Kill Giants         3/23/18

Not all comic book films are about superheroes… I Kill Giants is based on the comic book of the same name from screenwriter Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura about a lonely young girl named Barbara, who spends most of her days alone, vigilantly setting traps for giant monsters bent upon destroying her quiet seaside hometown. Abrasive to nearly everyone around her – save for her older sister and a new transfer student from England who feels just as alone in her new home – and frequently seen wearing a pair of large rabbit ears to complement her pouches full of artifacts and potions, Barbara is unsurprisingly the target of many bullies, but she also gains the attention of Mrs. Mollé, the new school psychologist, who notices that Barbara is dealing with something far more real than her apparent fantasies initially suggest. I Kill Giants has often been compared to A Monster Calls in that both deal with fantastical representations of troubled kids’ emotional grievances, and the comparison isn’t wrong, even though the respective source material for I Kill Giants predates that of A Monster Calls. I would argue, however, that where A Monster Calls succeeds is in being more straightforward with what the monster represents – the boy’s anger over his life circumstances, particularly in regards to his dying mother – rather than playing it off as some sort of big mystery with clues to be gathered and figured out by the audience, as is the case with I Kill Giants, which has the unfortunate effect of making the allegorical element more forced. It’s still a good film, though, with some truly outstanding performances from its cast, including lead Madison Wolfe. It’s just unfortunate that the film feels the need to tell its story in such a way rather than let it truly be fleshed out and let the audience see how Barbara’s fantasies evolve with her perspective.

Pacific Rim: Uprising      3/23/18

Even without the original film’s now-Oscar-winning director, Guillermo del Toro, at the helm, all that Uprising had to deliver upon as the inevitably lesser sequel was at least more of the same smash-‘em-up robot-on-kaiju action the first film delivered, even if it meant sacrificing some of the more plot-driven perks like character development that the first one provided, and I probably would’ve been satisfied. Commendably, the sequel actually does try to actually have characters you give a damn about, and, for the most part, it’s easy to like Jake and Amara, the two new leads played by John Boyega and Cailee Spaeny, respectively. It’s just a shame that everything else feels so obviously low-budget compared to the first, and I’m not just talking about the much less convincing visual effects, either. Gone are many of the characters’ catchy names (apparently badass Stacker Pentecost named his son… Jake) and enthusiastically silly, cartoon-level stock personalities (I know that sounds like a negative, but somehow the original made it a highlight). The action scenes are comparatively bland, as well, with no standouts among them, whereas with the first film, one could argue the merits of why certain action scenes were better than others (Hong Kong is the best, you guys). Perhaps worst of all, there’s a particular character choice that was stupidly staged and not just completely necessary, but retroactively makes certain events from the first film seem futile. Unforgivable and worthy an automatic demerit from me.

Unsane                 3/23/18

Steven Soderbergh follows up Logan Lucky with this low budget thriller about a woman who is involuntarily committed to a psych ward after suffering stalker-induced PTSD. While there, she begins to question her own sanity after her stalker reappears, apparently assuming the role of an orderly. Is it really him, or has she, in fact, lost her mind? I enjoyed the film, and Claire Foy is truly great in the lead role – abrasive but no less sympathetic. The film itself (Can you call it a film if it’s shot on an iPhone 7 Plus?) almost feels allegorical to the treatment that women like her face. She’s difficult, belligerent, and sometimes downright mean towards others, but can you really blame her when everyone is so dismissive of what she’s feeling, even if it’s a delusion, as most everyone else suspects? In spite of its intriguing qualities, the only reason this doesn’t make it onto my list of favorites is that its plot structure just feels somewhat… pedestrian. Thrillers can be hit or miss for me, with far more misses, and I felt as though the film lacked a certain personality or spark to put it over the edge of being just “good.”

Ready Player One            3/29/18

Worst. Movie. Ever! … Nah, I’m just kidding. I didn’t hate this film. While some may exaggerate and either call Steven Spielberg’s over-stuffed adaptation of Ernest Cline’s supposed nerd culture opus the greatest movie of the year or the worst movie of the year. It’s just kind of a movie that happened last year, and we all just kinda got through it fine enough. In fact, I actually found myself enjoying the movie from time to time, such as its little trip into the world of one of Spielberg’s friend’s iconic film – a seriously impressive effect until you get to the part where it just kinda ruins the immersion with a bunch of “oh my gosh, that would be so creepy you guys haha!” kind of crap. Yeah, it’s kinda fun to spot the cameos and references, and it’s neat seeing a bunch of pop culture things interacting and sometimes even fighting each other. That’s, like, half the appeal of a lot of pop culture, right? But, sadly, Spielberg somehow doesn’t manage to rise to the level of, say, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (on which he was an executive producer) in terms of quality, and the main character is actually kind of pathetic when you think about it. Sure, the lesson in the end is that focusing on one’s own life is more important than obsessing over the accomplishments of others, but the movie effectively tries to have its cake and eat it, too, with the way that it still practically worships at the throne of pop culture, to the point where one of its big “hell yeah!” moments involves having the lead tell off the villain for… well, basically not being hip enough. It’s a mindless summer blockbuster, and from what I hear of the book upon which it’s based, I’m actually kind of impressed that the movie managed to be as watchable as it is.

Love After Love                                3/30/18

You know, I gotta admit something about this one – it didn’t stick with me. I mean, I do recall the performances being fantastic – notably from Andie MacDowell as family matriarch Suzanne, and Chris O’Dowd, playing against type as Suzanne’s hotheaded son Nicholas – and I recall the film being about a mother and her two sons moving on from their husband/father’s death and the very subtle effects it has on them even after quite some time has passed, but the movie, despite all its accolades, just didn’t stick in my memory as something must-see, even on the small scale indie drama level, which I am very much open to. I will, again, reiterate that I am in the minority in this, and even then I can tell you that you’ll probably want to give it a go if you’re into these types of films. My headspace may not have even been up to it – I mostly watched it because it was included on may “Best of the Year So Far” style lists, so perhaps I started it and just felt compelled to keep watching out of obligation, despite not being in the mood for what I got myself into, which is absolutely my own fault.

Blockers               4/06/18

What do a group of overprotective parents do when they find out their teenage daughters are out to end their virginity? Why… learn a lesson themselves in not being overprotective and hope that their daughters are smart enough to know what to do without their condescending attitudes, that’s what!… Okay, you may not agree with the message of the film, people I know who are hypothetically reading this, but Blockers (stripped of its original title but no less sporting a rooster in its place on the artwork) is still a largely funny film about the way that we treat girls’ sexuality and purity so much differently than we do boys’, and the cast – parents and kids alike – is quite enjoyable.

The Miracle Season                        4/06/18

Based on the true story of the 2011 Iowa City West High School volleyball team defending its championship in the wake of the sudden death of their charismatic captain, Caroline “Line” Found, The Miracle Season can’t help but tug a few heartstrings and wring a few tears as Caroline’s teammates, coach, and family struggle to pick up the pieces of their lives and figure out what to do with it all Much like with director Sean McNamara’s Soul Surfer, the film can at times feel like one of those terrible faith-based films (and even attempted to market itself as one, if I recall, by just barely touching upon matters of faith in the face of tragedy) and probably could’ve used a few more passes over the script and a few more takes in the acting department. The final product is still fairly decent inspirational sports movie with a lot of heart and great performances from Helen Hunt as the head coach and William Hurt as Caroline’s father. It would’ve been nice to see perhaps more storylines going on than just focusing on that grief, however – perhaps by showing more of Caroline’s life before the tragic event rather than trying to distill all of her most beloved traits into the first 15 minutes or so.

Cargo    5/18/18

If the ratings for The Walking Dead weren’t indicative enough, the zombie craze seems to actually be dying out for the time being, but it’s still worth mentioning when something interesting is done with the genre – particularly if it’s done as well as it’s done here. Low on gore and your typical scares, Cargo takes a fairly low-key approach to the genre while keeping the expected sociopolitical commentary that the genre lends itself so well to, here featuring the unexpected companionship between a white man, Andy, seeking out a safe haven for his infant daughter after being infected and a young Aboriginal girl, Thoomi, who lost her father to the outbreak and left her family when they resolved to put his reanimated body out of its misery. The film isn’t heavy-handed with any sort of symbolism – at least that I noticed – and introduces a few new quirks to the genre, such as the fact that it there are hints of a semblance of current society actually still carrying on in some capacity elsewhere, even if it’s even less trusting than it used to be. The virus itself seems to have an incubation period, allowing for Andy (played remarkably by Martin Freeman) to consider the remainder of his life and the world to which he will soon have to leave his daughter. I’m not too familiar with Australian race relations to really comment, but with so much emphasis placed upon the Aboriginal girl’s culture, too, there seems to be an aspect of coming to terms with embracing the inevitable, whether that be death, life going on without you, and the existence of and intersection with cultures other than your own. The film does take a few lengthy detours along the way that, were this a series, could have easily taken up a few episodes of their own, but “Cargo” ultimately holds together admirably throughout its run and comes to an emotionally satisfying climax, even if you are able to deduce where the film is going early on.

Upgrade              6/01/18

I was fairly disappointed that I didn’t like this one as much as I thought I would. This was a film I felt like I was dragging my friend to, and instead I ended up being the one not nearly as satisfied as she was – and apparently the rest of the world, which seemed much happier with it. Perhaps it’s because I was already pretty tired of revenge-for-a-loved-one flicks that weren’t John Wick? (Yes, I know he was avenging the dog, not the wife. I said “loved-one.”) Upgrade could very easily satisfy anyone craving a lower-key ‘80s throwback sci-fi action flick, with its protagonist getting himself the experimental cybernetic titular upgrade after he and his wife are brutalized and, in her case, killed by a group of men after a car crash. Turns out that the procedure leaves him with the voice of the AI in his upgrade in his head, promising to help him get revenge for his wife’s death by controlling his limbs in the ensuing series of combat scenes. Logan Marshall-Green is very adept in the lead, simultaneously looking out of his element and yet competent beyond reason at brutally killing bad guys, and there’s some fun camera work that has us bending along with his befuddled face as his body attacks and dodges independent of his will. I didn’t hate upgrade, and maybe I would like it more upon a second viewing, particularly after watching Venom, which just so happens to star Logan Marshall-Green’s UK doppelganger, Tom Hardy, in a similar but less effectively produced predicament.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom                                6/22/18

This is a bad movie, but it’s still a Jurassic Park movie, and so I am probably always going to enjoy it on some level just because I enjoyed the first so much back when I was 7. The film somehow expects for us to be very concerned for these monsters’ well-being now that a volcano is threatening to knock them back into extinction, and yet its conclusion is also not an ideal one, where, at most, the world has changed largely to the effect of a few dozen deaths or so likely to occur in its wake. I suppose there is, of course, the matter of potentially more genetic tampering, which is what I think they’re really trying to get at and is the big question at the middle of the entire series, even if some movies don’t really focus on it in themselves, but… I dunno. I don’t think this movie is as impactful on the franchise as much as it was on the box office. We’re getting a sixth movie, you guys, whether or not this one made much sense, and, let’s face it, we’re all going to see it.

Uncle Drew        6/29/18

For a movie based on a Pepsi ad campaign and featuring a bunch of younger non-actors donning old man makeup as a bunch of senior citizens coming together and succeeding at taking on a bunch of younger basketball players in a tournament, Uncle Drew is much better than it has any right to be. That isn’t to say that it’s particularly funny or that the characters are particularly endearing – in fact, Uncle Drew himself is kind of an annoying character in a longform production, thanks in large part to Kyrie Irving’s tendency to make his voice simply a bit more gravelly and call it a day. There are few surprises to be had, and without the conceit of real people being involved, as was allegedly the case in the ads, the magic that the novelty of the old man makeup juxtaposing the characters’ basketball skills in the ads is lost here, and the film’s facile attempts to inject some genuine pathos into the characters’ return to the game actually undercuts its aspirations to also be a genuinely funny comedy. It’s almost as if this were a movie created by a committee that didn’t quite know how to make a movie but knew lots of the elements that go into the ones they like and threw them all into a blender and was lucky enough to not produce something truly repulsive.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado         6/29/18

Denis Villeneuve’s masterful Sicario did not need a sequel, particularly one that pulled a U.S. Marshals and decided to focus on the morally ambiguous, at best, anti-villain hot shots from the first movie and sought to reveal them to be, deep down, genuinely good guys who were just trying to do the right thing in their own eyes. You know, even if it meant secretly breaking the law, deposing a drug lord by instating another drug lord by allowing him to murder his entire family, children and all, and then threaten the life of the film’s disenchanted and morally upright protagonist. Day of the Soldado is a watchable and even sometimes entertaining movie that probably would have held up better had it not been tied to an unquestionably superior immediate predecessor that it basically also ignores just because it assumes the audience can’t handle not having supposedly clear cut heroes and likable badasses who do bad things but at least do it for the supposedly right reasons. I hated this movie, even if I acknowledge it’s not truly awful as a film.

The First Purge                 7/04/18

I was mildly let down by the fact that the third Purge film wasn’t as shockingly good as the second film, even though I still found it largely entertaining in a trash entertainment sort of way, but this prequel was definitely a step back in the right direction, following a new group of protagonists who have nothing left to lose… except very likely their lives. The movie ostensibly (though arguably not necessarily effectively) shows all of us what state the country was at the cusp of its first annual purge, which we’re shown was more of an isolated proof-of-concept that perhaps not so incidentally took place in the low-income and isolated Staten Island. Shockingly, the filmmakers were thoughtful enough to also provide a good enough explanation as to why most people during the event focus on legalized sadistic murder. (Hint: The newly ruling New Founding Fathers we’ve heard so much about pull a few strings to set the tone for years to come.) The strength of the movie lies in this not-so-subtle subtext (your mileage may vary) and its decision to focus on a somewhat complex protagonist, drug lord Dmitri, who isn’t a perfect guy and doesn’t even have the relatively altruistic motivation of punishing someone for wrongdoing. You do, however, get to know the people that Dmitri loves, which humanizes him, and before too long, you’ll find yourself cheering for him to kick some serious ass. Continue to not expect these movies to be too intelligent and you’ll continue to have yourself a good time.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation                                7/13/18

Yet another vacation for Adam Sandler and pals disguised as a movie and paid for by the studio, eh? … Seriously, though, I honestly laughed out loud quite a bit with this movie, recommended to me both by my sister and the barista making small talk with me while my drink was being made in the drive-thru, the latter of whom informed me it was streaming on Netflix, which of course means I went right back home and watched it. Breezy, colorful, silly in a good way, and surprisingly beautiful to look at, I can honestly say that Hotel Transylvania 3 is the funniest Sandler film I’ve seen since probably the early 2000s, and I’ve seen the previous entries, which were all also fine enough entertainment for the family. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, and the finale finds the movie teetering on the edge of being maybe just a bit too stupid for its own good, but it recovers nicely, and the fun that’s had before more than makes up for its shortcomings.

Skyscraper          7/13/18

Dwayne Johnson apparently needed his own Die Hard, and so here we get a film where that premise is thrown into the near future (I think?) and combined with a touch of The Towering Inferno. Here he’s a former Marine and FBI agent who loses his leg to a hostage situation gone wrong now hired as the head of security for a newly constructed high-tech skyscraper in Hong Kong. Of course, things once again go awry, and he’s suddenly thrust into action once again to stop a heist and save his family in the process. The film is rather banal in its execution, even establishing that the building is mostly vacant except for a few company executives and his accompanying family because it hasn’t officially opened yet. How much more exciting would this have been had there been at least a few other tenants around to serve as even just canon fodder for a few gunfights and a bunch of burning debris? The family aspect provides little to no drama, since there are few stakes beyond the goal of Johnson saving his family, and the film’s most interesting villain is dispatched pretty unceremoniously towards the beginning of the action, leaving the audience with a new villain shortly afterward who never establishes himself in quite the same way the other one did. It’s a rather boring movie that had me wondering if I should’ve seen it in the theatre in 3D rather than from Redbox to make it better, but I don’t regret saving my money on this one at all. But, hey, it’s good to see Neve Campbell again!

Tag         7/15/18

Based on the true story about a group of friends who have been playing the same game of tag for decades as a means of keeping in touch (this is a game that started before the era of social media, mind you), Tag pretty much takes the real inspiration and weaves a wacky comedy about friends reconnecting just before one of them gets married – the one who also, it just so happens, has never once been tagged as “it” in all those years. The film decidedly goes off the rails with how insane the game gets for comedic purposes, though one could argue that the very idea of this being a real thing that happened isn’t that far off from the fiction. The film isn’t particularly memorable or great, but the cast is good – Jake Johnson, Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, Jeremy Renner, and Isla Fisher play the participants (the latter being more of an eager cheerleader, granted), with Annabelle Wallis playing the journalist who finds herself tagging along with them (pun) to cover their story. It’s a harmless, lightly entertaining movie, really.

Unfriended: Dark Web                 7/20/18

Unfriended, for me, was an unexpectedly fun horror flick that made clever use its storytelling gimmick – telling a spooky story in real time through a single computer screen, multiple open windows, and Skype – to highlight the dangers and temptations that our online existence brings with it. You’d be surprised how much tension can be wrought from someone typing something, hesitating, and then revising their wording before sending someone a private message. The movie was, of course, a financial success, too, and so here we are with another entry. And, you know… it’s actually still pretty damn good! Apart from a similar aesthetic, this film is unrelated to the first, ditching the supernatural and bullying aspects and instead going for something a little more realistic: human trafficking and the dark web. Strangely, though, this realism aspect actually has the downside of making some of the greater leaps in logic harder to swallow. A ghost can be anywhere and can conceptually haunt and maybe even possess someone and compel them to do their bidding, but it’s harder to believe that even the most coordinated human traffickers can be this efficient in taking down a group of people scattered around the world within a couple hours or so. The film ends up feeling less like an effectively spooky story to tell around the campfire than it does an unintentionally amusing cautionary chain letter with an overwrought story about a girl who was killed by gangsters because she didn’t know not to flash her headlights at oncoming cars who had them off. It’s amusing and entertaining while it lasts, but that’s about it.

Christopher Robin           8/03/18

If anything, kudos to Disney for taking one of their most beloved franchises and attempting something so grim as this story about Christopher Robin learning to reconnect with his happier childhood and bring a little bit of it back into his adult life. It’s ultimately effective, if a bit too grim until halfway through, and once the gang starts getting back together, I really felt as though Christopher Robin did come together. The film’s Oscar-nominated effects are truly a highlight. The characters really feel like old-fashioned toys brought to life, and longtime Pooh (and Tigger) voice actor Jim Cummings continues to do great work here, as he always does. Ewan McGregor also gives a strong performance as the adult Christopher Robin, and I really enjoyed Hayley Atwell and Bronte Carmichael as his wife and daughter, Madeline, respectively, too, though it’s a shame that Disney opted to recast the other characters from their animated counterparts. The end results are a bit mixed – kind of a swirl of Hook and Where the Wild Things Are with a touch of the Hundred Acre Wood that didn’t really get stirred around well enough to even out the tones – but, yeah, sure… it’s fine.

The Meg              8/10/18

I wasn’t going to see this one until probably DVD release, but then my friend, who is terrified of the ocean, convinced me to go with her since she thought it was going to be exciting, and considering the number of times I’ve dragged her to superhero movies with me (usually for my second viewing and knowing she’s not too into them), I obliged. And, you know, I’m glad I did because I think a stupid movie like The Meg is definitely better served up on a giant screen with Atmos sound. Yes, this is a very stupid movie, but it kind of knows that, and it makes this obvious by casting Jason Statham in the lead role, thereby also informing the world that Statham used to be a competitive diver, which… really doesn’t have any bearing on the movie, but it’s interesting, isn’t it? Based on the 1997 novel Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, The Meg is hardly the Jurassic Park of the 2010s (then again, neither were the Jurassic World movies), but its story about scientists tracking down and attempting to defeat a newly discovered, once-thought-extinct giant shark before it kills too many people is perfectly at home in any library with room for dumb-fun movies like its predecessor, Deep Blue Sea.

Alpha    8/17/18

Think of Alpha as being the more artistically sound prequel to A Dog’s Purpose and you’ll have a good idea of what Alpha is about – a boy, separated from his tribe in a prehistoric era, must journey across treacherous terrain to reunite with them only to find his path entangling with that of a wolf who is similarly separated from his pack after the boy injures him in self-defense. The unlikely bond between the two becomes the foundation for the current relationship between man and dog. The film is smart enough to stylize its reality and thereby render a lot of the questionable CGI elements as more fanciful than unrealistic, and it’s also admirable that the film leans into its more artistic proclivities by exclusively having all dialogue be spoken in a fictional prehistoric language with subtitles. Kodi Smit-McPhee, as the boy, is also remarkably good, carrying most of the film on his shoulders with only a canine costar to bounce off of. It’s a solid family film, provided your kids are patient enough to read at the same time.

Papillon               8/24/18

I haven’t seen the original 1973 film, so this was my first viewing of an adaptation of Henri Charrière’s autobiographical (and, according to research, mostly embellished) accounting of his imprisonment after being framed for murder and his multiple attempts to survive in and escape from a penal colony in French Guiana, notably Devil’s Island. Starring Charlie Hunnam in the title role and Rami Malek as his companion, a counterfeiter named Louis Dega, Papillon is mostly concerned about the resilience of its main protagonist, a cunning, tough, and headstrong man who is shown to also be incredibly resourceful and dignified, particularly in the eyes of Dega, who isn’t anywhere near as streetwise nor as hardened as Charrière – who at one point is shown fending off an armed assailant without a scrap of clothing. (Is there any doubt that the real Charrière wrote the book upon which it’s based?) The film is a little too long for its subject matter, but Hunnam and Malek make the material work for the most part, and the film is overall well put together. The lukewarm reception and encouragement of my friend who invited me along to the theatre and nonetheless enjoyed it has at least encouraged me to put the first adaptation, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, on my watchlist.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post        9/07/18

The lesser of two mainstream gay conversion therapy dramas to come out in 2018, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is still a perfectly good and no less stirring examination of what life is like in these unscientific, unproven, and mismanaged programs designed to turn LGBT+ people into cisgender heterosexuals. Unlike Boy Erased, which was based on a true story, Cameron Post is fiction but is no less inspired by the various things that have happened at these sorts of camps and programs – emotional and psychological abuse and conditioning at the hands of unqualified individuals chief among them. Cameron, sent to the “God’s Promise” program to have her homosexuality reversed, struggles with what to do as she makes friends with both the misfits – a one-legged girl named Jane Fonda and Adam, a Lakota two-spirit sent to the camp by his Christian-convert father – and her roommate Erin, who is actually convinced that there’s a straight path at the end of her bent tunnel. The film is well-acted, but I felt as though it could not escape the trappings of the usual teen-oriented, YA-adaptation tropes, particularly the band of cool misfit friends and the tendency to elevate the emotional highs and lows to simmering melodrama, including a rare moment of levity where everyone’s dancing to retro music in the kitchen (or rather contemporary, I guess, as the film is set in the 1980s, but still…). In comparison to Boy Erased, where real people factor into the story, there’s a more definitive us-versus-them combative mentality that, while understandable, makes the narrative one where the filmmakers are largely just speaking to the choir rather than offering a chance for understanding and redemption. It’s still a really good film, though, with good performances from Chloe Grace Moretz, John Gallagher, Jr., and Jennifer Ehle.

The Predator     9/14/18

I’ve never cared much for the Predator franchise as a whole beyond its sometimes-canon connection to Alien and such, but they’re alright flicks, with each one, in my opinion, getting at least more fun as time has gone on. The Predator is the fourth primary film in the franchise and features a disgraced Army ranger teaming up with a ragtag group of convicts in taking on the titular alien, who has brought along his pets this time, this time within a suburban neighborhood. The film unexpectedly received poor reviews and was the subject of much controversy from behind the scenes revelations about a cut extra, but, you know… apart from this, I actually found myself having a pretty good time at the theatre. The cast – which includes Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Olivia Munn, Keegan-Michael Key, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, among others – was entertaining and provides the film with some comedy that I guess didn’t quite work for a lot of people, and while the overall film is kind of dumb, it’s the fun kind of dumb. I could have done without the sidestory about an unusually gifted autistic child who finds himself entangled in the mess, however. I somehow can’t help but think maybe this is an offensive stereotype, but, regardless, precocious children in movies are rarely a good thing. I dunno, though. I’d buy the movie for cheap.

Smallfoot            9/28/18

I spent most of the year hating on this movie’s trailers every time it would pop up, seemingly even before movies not targeting children. I still hate the designs of the yetis, and I really hate the general stock-level humor that the film has going for it, and I really hate that the film’s central conflict is resolved so easily, but still – I gotta say that I was taken aback by the conflict basically being about the importance of questioning dogmatic faith. Yeah, so it turns out that yeti society is founded on the various laws inscribed upon these small rocks that are worn by the chief, or whatever, but these laws have also led to the yetis being completely ignorant about the world outside of their own – such as its actual existence and, along with it, the “smallfeet” (humans) that purportedly live within it. Oh, and also there’s a nature documentarian who is trying to get back his cred by attempting to fabricate outrageous nature news and winds up bumbling his way into actually discovering the very creature he initially intended to fake. He’s played by James Corden. He sings a song to the tune of “Under Pressure.” It’s… fine. The movie’s fine. Kudos to you, Smallfoot, on being fine and not awful, though.

Beautiful Boy    10/12/18

Steve Carrel and Timothée Chalamet, indeed, look like they were made to play father and son, don’t they? Good eye, there, casting director. Based upon books by real life father and son David Sheff and Nic Sheff, respectively, about their struggle to deal with Nic’s years-long issues with drug addiction, Beautiful Boy is a great showcase for the lead actors as well as Maura Tierney, who plays David’s second wife Karen, who may not be Nic’s biological mother, but is shown to be no less determined to help Nic get through his issues and join David in his grief. Amy Ryan also shows up as Nic’s mother, David’s ex (making for a very awkward Office reunion), but she’s not given very much to do within the film’s narrative beyond cry to David over the phone. It’s a shame because, given the wealth of talent and the subject matter, Beautiful Boy could’ve been so much better than it ended up being. As is, the film’s choice to focus the Nic’s recidivism results in a very repetitive story that never truly comes to any conclusions. I’m sure this was intentional and perhaps even true to life, to show how agonizing such a drawn out thing like this can be, but it’s hardly compelling and even ends up being kind of nihilistic.

Bad Times at the El Royale          10/12/18

The trailer for Drew Goddard’s latest flick really captured my attention, from its stacked cast – Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, and not to mention someone who I would appreciate much more after seeing her in two films this year, Cynthia Erivo – intriguing premise, amazing-looking 1960s setting, the intriguing premise, Goddard’s presence behind the film in general, and… well, I’m just going to admit that Hemsworth in hippie dress didn’t exactly hurt things, even if the trailer promised dark things involving his character… But, yeah, I was pumped – and then the movie disappeared pretty quickly from theatres near me. I did finally go out of my way to a theatre several miles away after work, where I had a miserable time thanks to a couple behind me talking throughout, especially when I asked them to hush. Eventually, I got up and sat in the back, away from them, as they laughed at me, which really ruined the experience, so I may have to give this a rewatch. That being said, while I wasn’t blown away by Bad Times, it’s a solid, entertaining thriller with an intriguing storytelling device, jumping between characters and filling in backstory and motivations as the film goes along. I’ve heard that it’s essentially a compassionate breakdown of films like the kind Quentin Tarantino tends to make, and I can honestly say that I can totally see it, and it wouldn’t at all be surprising that the filmmaker who brought us The Cabin in the Woods would set out to do something similar. The film did seem to drag, however, and so I was disappointed, even if I generally liked it. But, again, my visit to the theatre was ruined, and I’ve heard many also call this a future cult classic. 

The Oath             10/12/18

There’s a solid premise behind The Oath: in a fictional but no less divided US, the President has advocated that its citizens sign a technically optional oath of loyalty and patriotism to the country (and, by implication, the government), which will go into effect on Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving, which inevitably leads to many uncomfortable and tense discussions with extended family. The Oath is the directorial debut of Ike Barinholtz, who also stars as Chris, a conscientious objector who is struggling to maintain sanity as those around him either begrudgingly out of fear or oftentimes willingly and enthusiastically sign the oath. The film starts off very promisingly, as we’re allowed to get to know Chris and his wife Kai, played by Tiffany Haddish refreshingly but also somehow disappointingly cast against type as the calm voice of reason, with a solid buildup of tension leading up to the gathering around the turkey, and those who are less inclined to not side with our current real-world President will no doubt see much of their own frustrations reflected in Chris’ reactions to his parents’ ambivalent superiority and the outspoken, antagonistic, and borderline bigoted approach that his brother and his brother’s latest girlfriend take, too, but the movie suffers in the last half, suddenly introducing government agents whose presence turns the remainder of the film into a repetitive bottle movie. There are funny moments, but the film would’ve been more effective had it stuck to playing off with the family dynamics rather than turning into a small-scale home invasion movie.

Mid90s                 10/19/18

Another film from an actor taking his first steps as a director, Mid90s comes from none other than Jonah Hill, who has created a remarkably serious drama – set, of course, in the mid-90s – about a young boy, Stevie, who is tormented at home by an abusive older brother and largely left to his own devices by his single mother, who is seeking out a place for himself in the world and seemingly finding it among a group of older skateboarders. The film does well to flesh out its characters, with Stevie providing not only a newcomer’s look into the world of skateboarding, but also the ideals of manhood these variously aged boys have taken on – Ray the aspirational and more mature leader, “Fuckshit” the care-free stoner, “Fourth Grade” the slow-witted and poorest of the group, and Ruben, who’s a bit older than Stevie and, of course, fancies himself the authority on how to fit in with the rest of the guys, despite his own insecurities as the only recently dethroned youngest of the group. The movie is above all frank about what these boys get up to, both bad and good, and it offers up neither apologies nor praises for their actions beyond the few times they all find themselves in over their heads and get their comeuppance. It’s a confident and solidly made film that maybe meanders a bit too much here and there, but, then again, that’s probably the point.

Bohemian Rhapsody      11/02/18

Ladies and gentlemen… the most overrated movie of the year. Set aside the controversy surrounding (fired) director Bryan Singer, and you still largely have a merely competent biopic that had the fortune of being able to be propped up by the music of Queen and the ability to climax with a nearly intact Live Aid concert recreation. The film follows Queen frontman Freddie Mercury almost exclusively from the time he sings his way into being the proto-Queen’s lead singer until said concert, which the film frames as pretty much a curtain call for the band, Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis moved up a couple years for dramatic effect – successfully, I admit, as I did not know this until afterward. In fact, I went into the film largely only knowing the big hits from the band and very little about the band members themselves beyond how Mercury had died. Though my family was big on classic rock, and Queen’s greatest hits were in my dad’s collection, I always got a sense that Mercury’s queerness is what largely kept them out of regular play in my household, so I was at least hoping to gain a better appreciation for the band and Mercury in particular from the film, even with the knowledge that creative liberties would be taken. So, what insight did I gain? Well, the lead-up to the film’s release made it clear that Mercury did have a female love in his life, Mary Austin, so her presence was at least somewhat related to the film but hardly revelatory to others. That he was Pakistani was also news to me, but hardly earthshattering. That the band split up, though? Wow. I mean, you don’t ever really hear about that – probably because it didn’t happen as shown in the film? Yeah, the film takes more than a few liberties with the facts, and they’re not even really that creative beyond giving some added heft to that admittedly impressive crutch of a concert climax. Rami Malek is doing a very good job, at least, invoking a Freddie-like presence, at least as far as I could tell, but that hardly makes up for the fact that the film itself is rather blandly linear in its storytelling and not particularly insightful beyond the superficial aspects of who Mercury was and what he meant to the band. This does not deserve to win any of the Best Picture awards it has been nominated for and won.

Green Book        11/16/18

Second most overrated movie of the year, ladies and gentlemen, and released so soon after the other, too! And yet, both Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book were the winners of their respective Golden Globes Best Picture categories and are also taking up two slots on the Oscar Best Picture nominations. Green Book, also ostensibly a very important film pulled from true life inspiration, tells the story about a white, racist bouncer – future actor Tony Lip – who temporarily takes on a job as chauffer for a black pianist, Don Shirley, who begrudgingly hires Lip after finding no suitable, tolerable alternative. What follows is a feel-good comedy that feels straight out of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and I mean that in that it also seems to have the effect of feeling like it looks back on the past as a bygone era of casual prejudices that we have since moved on from, as if racism’s wane began around the ‘60s and ‘70s. That the film also seems to present Lip as being more well-versed in Shirley’s culture than Shirley himself – the appeal of fried chicken, for instance – and its depiction of Shirley as a distant, alcoholic loner has also been a source of controversy, to the point where his portrayer, Mahershala Ali, apologized for it. The film is admittedly well put together, with good performances from Ali and Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip, but when you factor in the truth as well as the tendency for the film to present Lip’s ignorance throughout the movie as a mere quirk to tolerate in light of his otherwise lovable personality – borne, no doubt, out of the fact that his son had a hand in writing the script – and the seeming ease with which he apparently overcame his prejudices compared to how it portrays Don Shirley as stubborn and his flaws as off-putting, and you’ve got yourself probably the… second most controversial Best Picture nominee this year?

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald      11/16/18

Ooph… Who knew that the most terrible thing about this sequel to the charming and entertaining first film wouldn’t be the controversial and boring choice to cast Johnny Depp as the lead villain but rather J.K. Rowling herself? Seriously, this movie is dense with staging for future plot developments, but little of it pays off here, and yet I’m also really not certain I can tell you much of what happened as a result. This may work for really long books, but the general consensus has been that Rowling needs someone to reign in her screenplays or maybe even just write them with just Rowling providing oversight. The problem is likely that these films do not exactly have book equivalents to take inspiration from and condense and adapt into a proper screenplay, unlike with the Harry Potter films. Since Rowling is undoubtedly seen as a large part of what makes the Wizarding World tick, it’s understandable that Warner Bros. would want her to have some part of the writing process – both for likely for contractual reasons but also for marketing reasons, because she’s not yet at the level of George Lucas in terms of needing to hand off her franchise just yet, and fans would likely riot if she weren’t involved. She likely holds a lot of power with the studio and wants to hold the reigns, but she probably needs to know her limits as someone who is far more experienced in another medium. Of course, this is all conjecture, but it certainly makes the most sense. The Crimes of Grindelwald has very little of the charm of the first film, and its story is overly and prematurely bleak at this point in this spin-off series rather than easing you into the darkness likely to come within the next three announced films. It’s also a film that has very little time to continue developing its characters, including Newt and Tina, who at one point just disappear from the film for an extended period of time, and its attempts to introduce new characters is seriously rushed, which stunts the impact of later developments. Worst of all is the way the film brings back two beloved characters but in very ill-advised and nonsensically destructive way that’s supposed to count as compelling drama. The Crimes of Grindelwald is borderline awful, but it may well sit better after the rest of this planned quintology is finally out. Until then… maybe you should take some courses in screenwriting, Ms. Rowling?

Bird Box               12/14/18

It’s A Quiet Place but with sight instead of sound. That’s pretty much the impression I had when this was first making a splash, and that’s still largely the impression I get after having seen it. Granted, it’s based on a book that is older than that more critically acclaimed film, and the two were released in such close proximity to one another that you can’t exactly accuse the filmmakers for cashing-in on the other’s success. That being said, the ability to compare the two so close together clearly reveals which is the superior sensory deprivation monster movie. And it most definitely is not Bird Box. Sandra Bullock and Trevante Rhodes basically save the film from being unwatchable, its cadre of supporting actors not necessarily bad but rather just distracting from the overall tone of the film, chief among them John Malkovich. You want to make a quiet, intimate, and thematic horror film? Make a quiet, intimate, and thematic horror film! You want to go campy monster movie? Go make a campy monster movie! Bird Box does not know how to balance its tone, and this is largely due to the film’s storytelling structure, splitting its time between the beginning of the incident, which largely deals with Bullock’s character, pregnant, tenuously holding up with a group of survivors, and her taking a harrowing, blindfolded trip down a river with two children she merely calls “Boy” and “Girl,” because THIS MEANS SOMETHING. The central conceit of the film is that there are beings of some sort who, when looked upon, will either cause people to perceive their greatest fear and then commit suicide or, should they be mentally impaired in some way, to be compelled to force others to look upon the beings. … The title? … Well, that’s a reference to birds being kept in a box and basically being alarms for the presence of whatever it is that’s infecting people is around. I suppose one could extrapolate meaning from the film, and Lord knows that people have tried, but, to me, I suppose it really just symbolizes how sometimes people are way too enamored with a story wherein the point of watching is to merely find out who lives, who dies, and how.

Aquaman            12/21/18

Warner Bros. and DC have had their biggest box office with this film, which is actually pretty remarkable when you consider the fact that Aquaman, as a concept and character, has largely been the butt of many a joke (“So… his super power is that he can talk to fish?”) for the past few decades – a fact that the film is pretty much aware of and acknowledges during a flashback to the title character’s childhood before then setting out to subvert by turning Aquaman and love interest Mera into basically Indiana Jones and Marion for a good portion of the film, complete with a romantic interlude at an exotic destination that ends with an action-packed chase through the city. Of course, there is also some stuff about how Aquaman is the product of a forbidden love between the Atlantean queen and a land-dweller and his conflict with his land-dweller-hating half-brother over who is the rightful heir to the throne and whether or not Aquaman is even interested in taking that position, regardless, but all of that is kind of meh, particularly when you compare it to this year’s other film that deals in similar themes, Black Panther. Thankfully, Aquaman isn’t entirely devoid of entertainment value. I like the look of the movie and its commitment to just going with a lot of the strange concepts and visuals. Momoa, despite most of his dialogue consisting of lines pointing out how stupid he thinks people and situations are when he’s not whooping and hollering like a drunken fratboy, is at least infectiously enjoying his time in the role, too. But while it is arguably one of the better recent DC offerings and is undoubtedly better than any Aquaman movie we might’ve gotten just a few years ago, its villains and supporting characters are terribly dull – including Black Manta, who’s largely just a glorified Boba Fett out for revenge – its story is dull without any of the meaty subtext the way that Black Panther’s was, and when compared to Wonder Woman, it falls short of what DC is capable of. Still, at least its box office success at least might spur Marvel into action with a Namor the Submariner film?

Bumblebee        12/21/18

Saying Bumblebee is the best Transformers movie, even since the first, might be damning it with faint praise, but there’s a lot to like in this movie, chief among them being that the action is finally easy to understand. Characters are nice and toy-accurately boxy, and the camera actually manages to capture the action rather than pretend like it was shot on a smuggled camera at the scene of a top secret alien crash site. Bumblebee’s relationship with Hailee Steinfeld’s troubled teen Charlie is also sweet, if a bit formulaic. I liked that the conflict with the stepdad was largely a matter of perception, and the film’s central conflicts were also largely a matter of communicating and being better listeners while still letting us have all that sweet action stuff we come to expect from a Transformers movie. It’s a solid film that I wish could continue, but it does still feel largely like it was initially greenlit just to highlight a popular character and explain just how he got here before the other Autobots and how he lost his voice. I would love to expect maybe more of these types of adventures for the characters in the future, but that’s probably just not going to happen.

Destroyer            12/25/18

Nicole Kidman’s been seeing somewhat of a resurgence in her career lately, and Destroyer largely feels like the sort of unexpectedly transformative film you’d expect to see a veteran such as herself to take on in order to really kick things into high gear. I don’t think Destroyer will be that film for Kidman, but that’s probably okay because I don’t think it’s going to put a stop to the resurgence, either. She’s far too interesting and talented for that. Still, the promise of seeing Kidman take a turn as a gritty, dirty undercover cop who will do anything to get her man is hindered by the fact that her man isn’t quite such an interesting character, and the people she has to go through to get to him are all pretty bland, too. Once you find out why she’s so driven, it does make perfect sense for her to approach her quest with such ferocity, but would it have hurt to make her journey toward exacting her revenge be at least as interesting as the story about how she ended up with such bloodlust?

Vice       12/25/18

This movie was borderline on my favorites of the year list. Directed by Adam McKay, once again in The Big Short mode, Vice is a biographical picture about former Vice President Dick Cheney’s rise from a drunk blue collar worker to one of the more deceptively powerful men in America – possibly even the world. Vice is not so much interested in plain old facts, however, throwing out a lot of the rules that you would expect from a Very Important Political Film for some seriously pointed but oftentimes humorous satire about the man’s life, such as including comedic asides that illustrate a point and a rather hilarious detour into Shakespearean territory. It’s engaging, to say the least, and, as with The Big Short and its own satirical stylings, this has the effect of making a potentially boring, dry subject all the more interesting to general audiences. It can sometimes come off as condescending, of course, and it’s not going to win over many converts to its perspective the way it carries itself out, which can be off-putting for even those who hold McKay’s views, which is why I’ve left it off of my list of favorites, even though I ultimately liked a majority of Vice. The performances are excellent all around, however – Christian Bale once again disappears into his role and, in spite of all the satire and obvious political bent, finds the human element to the man, and Amy Adams also walks a fine line between sweet, doting motherly figure and playing a woman who the film argues is complicit in encouraging her husband’s actions. Steve Carrel plays Donald Rumsfield as a rambunctious, almost likable asshole while Sam Rockwell plays George W. Bush as your typical buffoon but also someone who was likely someone who knew they were in over their head and almost sympathetically just trying to do what was expected of him. I kinda wish the film as a whole were as nuanced as the people it follows, if only for rhetorical reasons, but I also kinda can’t fault the movie for going this route, either.

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