Posts Tagged ‘2018 movies’

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Movie Reviews: Pet Sematary (2019), Leave No Trace (2018), Tag (2018)

April 25, 2019

Pet Sematary (2019)
Director: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer (Holidays, Starry Eyes)
Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jete Laurence

Anticipation Level: Medium

How Was It? I hated it. It’s the first movie I’ve seen in 2019 that I thought about walking out of. Not that I would… but I did think about it. I can’t really compare it to Stephen King’s book (because I never read it) or the original film (because I don’t remember it), but on its own, I thought this movie was brutal… and not in the good kind of way that horror movies can be brutal. It just sucks. Jason Clarke is an actor I’ve identified as someone I’ve never liked in a single role (to be fair though, I’ve never seen Zero Dark Thirty or Mudbound, two critically acclaimed films he’s had roles in). Pet Sematary has a backstory involving the mom and her deformed sister that kept popping up and it is plenty disturbing, but in the “wait, why are we watching this” kind of way. I’ve heard these flashbacks play a critical role in King’s book, but I didn’t understand their relevance in the film. She’s scared of mangled human monsters? I mean… who isn’t? I know this was a remake so a lot of us know what is going to happen, but could they be any less subtle about the huge trucks whizzing past the driveway? And having been startled by semis speeding past multiple times already, what kind of shitty parents are letting their kids play anywhere near that road unsupervised? Come on. Massive kudos to the film editing crew for putting together a trailer that made this shit show look watchable.

Replay Value: None.

Sequel Potential: The original got a sequel even though there is only one book and this movie has already grossed double its budget in the U.S. alone, so there’s definitely potential.

Oscar Potential: None.

3/10 (Bad)

Gauva Island (2019)
Director: Hiro Murai (Atlanta, Barry)
Starring: Donald Glover, Rhianna, Letitia Wright, Nonso Anozie

Anticipation Level: Medium

How Was It? Uh, I guess it’s a cool showcase for previously released Childish Gambino music? Donald Glover works “This Is America” and both songs from last year’s Summer Pack set of singles into the script and it all fits just fine, but if you tuned in to this movie looking for fresh material from one of the most talented entertainers alive (like I did), you might wind up a bit disappointed. I didn’t find the story too compelling and Rhianna’s contribution was pretty minimal. It seemed like any random actress could have played that role. Guava Island is basically a 60 minute music video for songs we’ve already heard. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not what I was hoping for.

Replay Value: Not too much.

Sequel Potential: Shouldn’t be any.

Oscar Potential: Does this qualify for the Short Film category? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an short film nominee and I’ll go out on a limb and say I still haven’t.

5/10 (Decent)

Leave No Trace (2018)
Director: Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone)
Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie

Anticipation Level: Strong

How Was It? Very good. Leave No Trace is about a war vet that finds solace living completely off the grid, in the woods of a park in Portland, Oregon, with his teenage daughter. This is their way of life and it seems like his daughter has never known any other way of living. This film is shot entirely in the Pacific Northwest (my home) and showcases how beautiful this part of the country is. I really enjoyed taking this journey with the two main characters, as they are plucked out of their routine and forced to live a “normal” life – you know, with housing, showers, electronic communication, and *shudders* responsibilities – and how each of them react to their new environment. Leave No Trace is a powerful film about survival, family, and how not everyone is wired the same way. Debra Granik is also responsible for directing the excellent Winter Bone that made Jennifer Lawrence a star and I’ve now thoroughly enjoyed both films I’ve seen from her, making her a name to keep an eye on.

Replay Value: I’d be happy to watch this again.

Sequel Potential: None.

Oscar Potential: This film got basically zero awards attention and that makes it one of the most underrated films of 2018.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Tag (2018)
Director: Jeff Tomsic
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress

Anticipation Level: Low

How Was It? Perfect! I mean… I go see a movie in theaters most weeks and I skipped this one, so I obviously wasn’t expecting much from it. Actually, I expected it to suck and found it to be quite entertaining. It’s not a high level comedy, but it was funny enough and this group of guys make for a good team. In fact, this world needs more Jon Hamm in comedic roles. I’m not sure what it is about him – maybe it’s the fact that he looks like someone that should only be in serious roles – but he is naturally hilarious. Jeremy Renner is also great in this, basically channelling his Hawkeye character for this game of adult tag. I was ready to poke holes in the plot but the script kept finding ways to plug them. It’s not a great film, but it’s a fun and mindless comedy.

Replay Value: Comedies always play best the first time around.

Sequel Potential: This is a story that could keep on going.

Oscar Potential: None

6/10 (Recommended)

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Movie Reviews: Captain Marvel, Leaving Neverland, Alita, Bird Box and More

April 2, 2019

Captain Marvel (2019) – This was not one of Marvel’s stronger films. I really like Brie Larson, even in this movie, but she was pretty much the only shining point. It was sort of funny and mildly entertaining, but that’s about it. There is a lot of hoopla about this being a female-led superhero movie and while I’m all for diversity in films, it doesn’t mean that Captain Marvel is actually good. Marvel has some history of producing forgettable villains and this movie adds to that list. I can’t even remember the villain’s name or what they were trying to do. Pretty forgettable, but probably still worth watching if you’ve made it this far and plan on seeing Avengers: End Game later this month. 5/10 (Decent)

Leaving Neverland (2019) – I have been a staunch Michael Jackson supporter ever since I read his biography by J. Randy Taraborrelli back in 2013. I did some other digging on top of that and I came away from all that convinced that he was a misguided and naive Man-Child that was likely innocent of all the accusations against him. This documentary definitively changed my mind. There is just no way Michael Jackson is innocent. He sexually abused multiple little boys. I don’t see any reason to doubt that. The two men revealing their stories here are incredibly convincing and their motives for both hiding the truth for so long and for speaking out now make total sense to me. At this point, the testimony is overwhelming, the circumstances are undeniably questionable and always have been, and in 2019, there is no excuse for shielding a monster just because he’s one of the most iconic musicians of all-time. This is an absolute must watch, especially for anyone that still thinks Michael Jackson was an innocent dude. 8/10 (Must Watch)

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) – I gave the first two movies a 7 and a 5, respectively, and this sequel was more in line with the quality of the second movie. Somewhat enjoyable, but mostly forgettable. 5/10 (Decent)

Alita: Battle Angel (2019) – Visually, this movie is pretty awesome, with some really good character design, and there were elements in place to make this a great underdog story, but it falls a little flat. There are some good action sequences and some fun highlights, but I wasn’t emotionally invested in the movie and I wanted to be. Rosa Salazar is fine in the lead role, but I thought a lot of the cast was phoning it in. Not that long ago, I considered Christoph Waltz for my top 5 actors list and I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve seen anything I’ve liked from him. Alita was a bit hokey and sort of bombed at the domestic box office, but I liked it enough that I’d at least watch a sequel. 5/10 (Decent)

First Reformed (2018) – This is one I’m pretty unsure about. Here’s what I know: it is powerful, Ethan Hawke is great in it, and it is a bit hard to swallow. Faith, terrorism, and mental illness are all big themes tackled in the movie and each one of those topics can be controversial, so there could definitely be some outrage while watching this one. First Reformed does a lot of things really well and I mostly enjoyed it quite a bit, even if I thought it all got a bit bizarre. I give it a recommendation, but with a warning that it could ruffle some feathers. 6/10 (Recommended)

Bird Box (2018) – Initially, I thought it was okay. I didn’t hate the experience of watching it, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more ridiculous I’ve realized this movie is. Basically, anyone that is saying Bird Box is awesome (and there are many) is either incredibly forgiving or very easy to please. This is a film that basically answers none of the questions it raises. It’s like if “Lost” only had one season… and that one season wasn’t good. Plus, Bird Box doesn’t make much sense. Apparently, some presence has arrived on earth that causes people to commit suicide if they look at it, but we never get any sort of idea what this presence looks like or where it comes from? Does that matter? Honestly, yes, I think so. Maybe a movie like A Quiet Place doesn’t answer some of these questions either, but at least it ratcheted the suspense and tension up by like a 100%. 3/10 (Bad)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) – A wonderful documentary about the story of Fred Rogers, a man better known as Mister Rogers and for his show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers was an incredible person and his level of genuine compassion for other people, and especially kids, is unmatched by any human I’m aware of. I’ve only seen two 2018 documentaries, but I’m surprised this didn’t get an Oscar nomination. If you were ever a fan of the man or the show, this is an obvious must watch. 8/10 (Must See)

The Wife (2018) – I thought this might be a must watch based on the strength of Glenn Close’s performance when it looked like she was a lock to win Best Actress, but Olivia Colman ended up winning, and deservedly so – she was better (and so was Lady Gaga). Still, Close is great in this movie, if not quite jaw-droppingly amazing. Unfortunately, while Close’s performance carries the film, it doesn’t elevate the movie to high levels of enjoyment. The story rubbed me the wrong way. Sure, maybe there are women out there that will stand by while their womanizing husband takes all the credit for their hard work and talent. And maybe they will do so for decades. Are we supposed to feel sorry or root for such a woman? Actually, there aren’t any likable people in this film. Close doesn’t get much support from the rest of her cast either. The guys that play the High Sparrow and Viserys Targarean on Game of Thrones combine forces to play the douchebag husband here and I couldn’t stand watching either of them on screen and not in the enjoyable way you can hate a character, like a Joffrey Baratheon or a Ramsey Bolton. This movie is basically one stellar performance away from being horrible. 3/10 (Bad)

The Invitation (2015) – Intense and enthralling, this was a very good slow burn thriller. Between this and last year’s Upgrade, Logan Marshall-Green has been the star of two awesome, but under-the-radar movies in the suspense/horror genre. 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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The Favourite (2018)

February 21, 2019

The Favourite (2018)
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dogtooth)
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult

Anticipation Level: Strong

How Was It? There were a lot of things done extremely well in The Favourite. First off, the acting from the three female leads was top notch. This is Emma Stone’s earliest period piece and while she mostly blends in to the time period, she also adds the slightest tinge of modernity, a touch that I actually enjoyed. Even better is Rachel Weisz, someone I used to think of as a poor (wo)man’s Kate Winslet, but director Yorgos Lanthimos seems to bring out the best in her, as she was also great in his last film The Lobster. Olivia Colman gives the film’s best performance though, as she is utterly devastating as Queen Anne, and delivers the only challenge to Lady Gaga for Best Actress that I’ve seen so far.

The Favourite is also a rather beautiful film. The production design, costumes, hairstyle and makeup are all Oscar-worthy. And I loved the music. It is hard to ignore and really elevates the mood.

All that said, I thought The Favourite was a bit challenging and not necessarily in a good way. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. While the tension between the three leads is easy enough to follow, I couldn’t follow the politics happening outside the castle or their implications on the story and the last 15 minutes or so of the movie really lost me. When it ended, I was like, “wait… what?” I had to go online and read a plot synopsis to get it. And that did make me like it more. While I have no probably having to dig a little deeper to understand a film, I just can’t pretend like The Favourite was an overwhelmingly pleasant experience for me. It’s a high brow art house flick – which I’m not opposed to – but the 30% discrepancy between the critics score (94%) and the audiences score (65%) says a lot about how the general population feels about The Favourite. Lanthimos’ The Lobster was way stranger, but also super creative and more entertaining to me.

I would still recommend The Favourite because it’s extremely well made, has fantastic performances, and a good amount of entertainment value, but if you’re predisposed to disliking period films, you can go ahead and skip this one. It certainly didn’t blow me away.

Replay Value: Like Roma, when I like a movie substantially less than the critics, I’m open to giving it another watch to see if it grows on me.

Sequel Potential: None.

Oscar Potential: 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and acting noms for all three actresses. In addition, The Favourite garnered nods for Original Screenplay, Production Design, Costume Design, Cinematography, and Film Editing. I’m partial to Black Panther, but I’ll be surprised if The Favourite doesn’t win Oscars for both Production and Costume Design. Also, I’m kind of shocked the film didn’t get nominated for Best Score and Hairstyle and Makeup.

Dina Meter: I’m guessing this is a hard pass for Dina.

6/10 (Recommended)

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Roma (2018)

February 18, 2019

Roma (2018)
Director: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Y Tu Mama Tambien)
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira

Anticipation Level: Modest

How Was It? Roma is a heavy favorite to win Best Picture this Sunday. As you can see from my level of anticipation, despite all the hype around Roma, I just wasn’t all that excited for it. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe because no one I know personally has told me it was great. Alfonso Cuaron is one of my favorite directors and every movie he’s made since Y Tu Mama Tambien in 2001 has cracked my top 10 for the year.

I very much wanted to be blown away. I wasn’t. Well, I sort of was. A lot of the praise heaped on Roma is due to writer/director/cinematographer Alfonso Cuaron’s ridiculous visual presentation. It is a truly beautiful film – shot in black and white, yet full of vibrant life. Visually, Roma deserves all the adoration it has received. I just wasn’t emotionally invested in the story. From my understanding, Roma is largely inspired by Cuaron’s own childhood and the main maid/nanny character of Cleo is based on his family’s own maid/nanny from when he was growing up. In fact, I just read that 90% of the scenes in the movie are taken from Cuaron’s own memories. That actually makes this movie substantially cooler. Still, on my first viewing, I found the pace of Roma to be a bit of a drag and the most powerful scenes in the film didn’t affect me as much as I suspect they were supposed to. Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira both got Oscar noms for their acting in this movie and while I can see how Aparicio got nominated, it’s not as clear why de Tavira did; I thought she was solid but nothing spectacular. Aparicio had zero acting experience prior to this movie and only auditioned for the role because she “had nothing better to do” and didn’t even know who Alfonso Cuaron is. The fact the she is now an Oscar-nominated actress is quite an amazing story.

Honestly, I think I owe Roma another watch, but after my first viewing, I felt underwhelmed. It is definitely a gorgeous and intimate film, but I’m sorry, it was a bit *gasp* boring. It is a must watch film because it’s probably going to win a lot of Oscars – including Best Picture – and the cinematography is top notch, but if you don’t care about the technical aspects of making films (I do) and simply want to be entertained, Roma will probably disappoint. I do think this is a film that could end up growing on me.

Replay Value: I’m willing to give it another chance and see if it impacts me more on a second viewing.

Sequel Potential: None.

Oscar Potential: Roma is nominated for ten Oscars and seems like the favorite to win Best Picture. Even more of a lock is Alfonso Cuaron for Best Director and Best Cinematography. Roma is also a lock to win Best Foreign Language Film. I mentioned the two actresses have nominations and Roma also has nods for Original Screenplay, Production Design, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. I would be pretty surprised if Roma doesn’t notch at least four Oscars on Sunday night.

Dina Meter: I wonder… I kind of feel like Dina would quit this film pretty early but there are some things I think she’d like.

6/10 (Recommended)

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2018 Movie Reviews: Free Solo, Green Book, Hereditary, and more

February 13, 2019

Free Solo (2018)
Director: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Meru)
Starring: Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Sanni McCandless, Jimmy Chin

Anticipation Level: High

How Was It? Amazing. If you’re not familiar with what free soloing is, let me tell you: it is climbing mountains, cliffs, and massive rock walls without any safety harnesses or gear. Here’s what happens when you make a mistake and fall while free soloing: you die. This documentary follows famed free soloist Alex Honnold as he attempts to become the first climber to free solo El Capitan, a 3000 foot wall of granite in Yosemite, California that looks impossible to climb with gear. Free Solo is mind-blowing in every sense of the word. It’s unfathomable that people like Alex Honnold exist. What makes someone want to do something like this? What is it like to be in their inner circle? This documentary attempts to answer those questions, all while filming the breathtaking feat in action. It’s an unbelievable film. Remarkable.

Replay Value: I would love to see it again.

Sequel Potential: It wouldn’t surprise me if someone films Honnold’s next big feat. It also wouldn’t surprise me if someone films his death.

Oscar Potential: Free Solo is nominated for Best Documentary Feature and it’s filmed so beautifully that you wonder if documentaries are eligible for categories like Best Cinematography.

Dina Meter: I’m not sure Dina could stomach this movie, but she should definitely watch it.

9/10 (Phenomenal)

Green Book (2018)
Director: Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, Shallow Hal
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Anticipation Level: Strong

How Was It? I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was substantially funnier than I ever would have expected. Viggo Mortensen is a total blast in what might be my favorite performance from him. Green Book isn’t the most powerful film about race relations, especially since it is set during a time when the liberation of black folk was still a fresh idea, but it still had some moving scenes (and some weird ones). However, whatever Green Book lacks in severity, it makes up for in light-hearted, feel good fun.

Replay Value: Might lose some of its hilarity with immediate repeat viewings, but should still be very enjoyable.

Sequel Potential: Based on a true story, so no.

Oscar Potential: Five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Film Editing, and acting nominations for Mortensen and Ali.

Dina Meter: I would be shocked if Dina didn’t love it.

8/10 (Must See)

Hereditary (2018)
Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro

Anticipation Level: High

How Was It? This movie knocked my socks off – and shocked me. I really didn’t think a movie – especially one labeled as a horror movie – could shock me, but Hereditary did exactly that. It’s thrilling, scary, and the tension never lets up. Toni Collette is brilliant. If you’re not into scary stuff, skip it, but if you are… if you ARE… it’s an absolute must watch.

Replay Value: It’s probably a tough watch for some, but I’m ready for round two.

Sequel Potential: Horror movies always have potential, but this should be a one and done movie.

Oscar Potential: None? Granted, I haven’t seen all of the nominated performances for Best Actress, but Toni Collette may have been snubbed here.

Dina Meter: I forced Dina to watch It Follows, The Conjuring, and It, but I really don’t think she’d make it through Hereditary.

8/10 (Must See)

Eighth Grade (2018)
Director: Bo Burnham
Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Anticipation Level: Strong

How Was It? It’s hard to imagine a more accurate depiction of what it might be like to be a young teenage girl growing up in today’s world. Or the single father of a teenage girl. This movie reaches new levels of awkwardness and, even though I’m a male that grew up two decades earlier, I still found it plenty relatable. Elsie Fisher is great in this movie… another fringe contender for Best Actress that didn’t make the cut. I’m hesitant to recommend this movie because I doubt everyone will appreciate it, but I found it to be quite good.

Replay Value: Not a ton.

Sequel Potential: Very little.

Oscar Potential: Elsie Fisher got a Golden Globe nom, but no Oscar attention.

Dina Meter: I’m unsure if Dina would like this or not. It’s pretty slow and a little weird, but maybe?

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Summer of ’84 (2018)
Director: Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell (Turbo Kid)
Starring: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Teira Skovbye, Rich Sommer

Anticipation Level: Medium

How Was It? I liked it. How could I not? It’s a movie set in the 1980s about a kid that thinks his neighbor might be a serial killer. Yes… right up my alley. I wonder how I would have reacted if there was an active serial killer in my town when I was growing up? Would I try to solve the mystery like these kids did? I really enjoyed the premise and feel of the movie, but some things didn’t really ring true to me. Where was the parental supervision? I know it’s the 1980s, but what are the chances parents would leave their teenage kids home alone when it is common knowledge there’s a killer loose in the area that targets boys in that age range? Or letting them play flashlight tag after midnight? Plus, of course the parents trust their kids enough to let them be out all hours of the night, but not enough to believe anything they say. Also, I didn’t love the casting in this movie… give me the cast of It or “Stranger Things” any day. But I’m just nitpicking… this movie was still pretty cool.

Replay Value: I’m a big horror fan and this one falls short of making the list of movies I’d want to own so I can watch them whenever I want.

Sequel Potential: I don’t think a direct sequel would work well here, but this genre spawns unwarranted sequels unlike any other.

Oscar Potential: None.

Dina Meter: Dina isn’t a big fan of scary movies and while this one isn’t particularly scary, it’s not really something I feel like she needs to see either.

6/10 (Recommended)

You Were Never Really Here (2018)
Director: Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix

Anticipation Level: Low

How Was It? I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I honestly had no idea what was going on and I stuck with it thinking things might get fleshed out, but I never understood anything that was happening. Maybe it’s brilliant. You Were Never Really Here is at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 84 on MetaCritic, so I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something. I have a tendency to largely agree with the critics so it’s nice when a movie like this comes along and proves that I actually do think for myself. This was one of the least enjoyable 2018 films I’ve seen.

Replay Value: One viewing was difficult enough.

Sequel Potential: Probably not.

Oscar Potential: No nominations.

Dina Meter: Dina would quit this movie in record time.

3/10 (Bad)

Note: I’m hesitant to call You Were Never Really Here a “bad” film because there is obviously something here that many people loved, but I didn’t think it was “decent” (a 5/10) and even “forgettable” (a 4/10) doesn’t quite embody my distaste for it. Let’s just say I found it highly unenjoyable.

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Glass (2019), etc. – Movie Ratings!

January 30, 2019

Glass (2019) – I can’t call this a massive disappointment after the critics roasted it, but I loved Unbreakable and enjoyed Split as well, plus writer/director M. Night Shyamalan was on a two-game winning streak (2015’s The Visit was also good). There were reasons to be optimistic. Glass missed the mark though. It’s boring and silly and the big reveal at the end is way more “huh?” than “wow!” It’s not that it’s confusing; it’s just dumb and underwhelming. James McAvoy is a crusher again. He almost makes the movie worth watching. Almost.

Decent/Forgettable

Blindspotting (2018) – Funny and poignant, this movie rivals Spike Lee’s much more heralded Blackkklansman but is every bit as relevant and enjoyable. David Deegs gives a good performance, particularly in the incredibly powerful climax of the film. Blindspotting blends the buddy movie formula with timely social commentary, a strong hip-hop influence, and inspired performances from Deegs and co-star Rafael Casal (the same duo also wrote the script together). The masses have overlooked this, but Blindspotting is one of the must see flicks of 2018.

Must See

Vice (2018) – I guess this movie is a bit polarizing. I have two friends that walked out of it after 15 minutes while someone I watched it with walked in 15 minutes late and still enjoyed it. I thought it was good. Christian Bale and Amy Adams are as good as they always are and director/writer Adam McKay seems to have a knack for telling the stories in his movies in fun, inventive ways. Political movies can be a bore (for me), but this was amusing and entertaining with A+ performances. I’d recommend Vice but it clearly isn’t for everyone.

Recommended

The Mule (2018) – Not Clint Eastwood’s best work, but his best work is magnificent so that’s not really fair. This movie is mildly entertaining, but I had a hard time enjoying it because the decision-making from some of the characters didn’t ring true to me. Eastwood’s character is estranged from his family because he chooses to spend his life driving through the nation and… selling flowers? From what I can tell, he’s self-employed so… why is he missing his daughter’s wedding? Isn’t making your own schedule one of the top benefits of having your own business? How lucrative was this flower business that he had absolutely zero time for family? I didn’t buy it. I also didn’t buy anything that happened with his family in the last act of the movie either. The muling scenes are good and so is any interaction Eastwood has with a minority (he’s racist but doesn’t know it because he’s not really racist, he’s just ignorant). Not sure this is a recommendation but it’s close.

Decent

Aquaman (2018) – I never really thought this was going to be good but the critics didn’t crucify it and I thought maybe? Honestly, the first half or so of the movie was so bad I was pretty sure I hated it, but it’s charm eventually overwhelmed me to the point I realized I was actually enjoying it. It’s overstuffed and dumb, with some terrible one-liners, but there’s enough heart and humor, plus some decent set pieces that it just might be worth watching.

Decent

Mary Poppins Returns (2018) – I didn’t revisit the original before watching this (and I don’t remember it), so any callbacks flew right over my head, but I felt like I got the gist of it. Emily Blunt is fantastic. There is so much to like about her. I think she’s wasted here, mostly because, for the star of the film, she doesn’t seem to get enough screen time, especially in the last act. Some of the songs are good, but most of them are forgettable. Lin-Manuel Miranda has gotten some praise for his acting, but for someone that blew my mind away with “Hamilton” I thought this was a pretty underwhelming major feature debut for him. I thought this was okay. Definitely not the fringe Best Picture contender some have made it out to be.

Decent/Forgettable

Bodied (2018) – This is a movie that dives into the current state of battle rap while trying to offer social commentary and act as a satire. I thought the rapping was very elite for the most part (real battle rappers are used), but the acting and the story were borderline stupid. Also, in real life, these battles are mostly scripted with bits of spontaneity sprinkled in, but the “hero” in this movie is made out to be some sort of wunderkind that can create amazing content off the top of his head. That’s not really how rap works and there’s no reason for the audience to believe he is somehow an exception. The guy makes Eminem’s best freestyles sound pedestrian. This is a must watch for fans of rap and a total skip if you’re not into rap. Overall, I don’t think there’s much to see here when people aren’t rapping.

Decent

The Kindergarten Teacher (2018) – Maggie Gyllenhall gives a top notch performance as a teacher that becomes overly involved in the life of one of her students that appears to be a poetry prodigy. It’s a slow burn character study that sees Gyllenhall’s teacher gradually evolve from reasonably invested into something more creepy and, uh, sociopathic. This is a fine movie that is mostly worth watching for Maggie’s performance.

Recommended

And for fun… here are the top five movies I’m looking forward to in the first quarter of 2019:

1. Us (March 22nd) – Jordan Peele’s followup to Get Out. Trailer looks awesome. I can’t wait.

2. Captain Marvel (March 8th) – Marvel hasn’t missed with many origin flicks and Brie Larson is perfect casting.

3. Happy Death Day 2U (February 13th) – The first one was a pleasant surprise and the trailer for this shows too much, but it looks like more of the same fun with new twists. Yes please.

4. Alita: Battle Angel (February 14th) – This could be awesome or a total bomb. The trailer looks good to me.

5. Chaos Walking (March 1st) – Good cast with a capable director and a screenplay written by Charlie Kaufman (and six other people, yikes!). Could be a disaster but I’m intrigued.

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Bumblebee (2018)

January 4, 2019

Anticipation Level: 6/10

Director: Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings)
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Cena

Because I’m an AMC A-List member now and watch a movie almost every week, I saw the trailer for Bumblebee what felt like a record amount of times over the past few months. I was sick of it, but I had to admit: it looked surprisingly decent. And then something insane happened: after seeing the trailer around ten times, I finally realized that Hailee Steinfeld was the star of the movie. An Oscar nominee at age 14 for her performance in True Grit, Steinfeld brings serious acting clout to a franchise that I stopped watching at least two films ago. She’s not unrecognizable in Bumblebee, but somehow I missed the fact that one of my favorite young actresses was on screen in front of me… multiple times. Needless to say, once I realized who the star was, a movie I was mildly interested in became a must watch.

Bumblebee was a lot of fun. It’s hands down the best film in the franchise since the original with Shia LeBeouf and I’d argue that it’s quite easily the best in the entire series so far. It certainly has substantially more heart than any Transformers movie I can remember.

Unsurprisingly, Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic. As charming and adorable as usual, her Charlie is an independent young woman that seems like an outcast as she’s reeling from the death of her father while her mother has already integrated another man and dad figure into the family. She’s a rare action movie star that we can actually empathize with and then root for. It’s another noteworthy performance from Steinfeld in a very impressive young career. Just imagine what a, say, Megan Fox would do with this role, and it’s easy to appreciate how gifted Hailee Steinfeld is.

The visual effects and sound in any Transformers movie are usually top notch and Bumblebee continues the trend of being spectacular in those departments. Altogether, the series has landed seven Oscar nominations for Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing, so a return to the Oscars (the last two movies were shut out) in those categories would seem likely since the movie is actually good, but the shortlist for Best Visual Effects has been released and Bumblebee didn’t make the cut. If you liked the series enough to watch Transformers: The Last Knight, you shouldn’t be disappointed with the technical aspects of this movie.

The story in Bumblebee is actually good. I’ve already mentioned that Charlie is a character we can get behind as an audience and her bond with Bumblebee is reminiscent of what made movies like E.T. and The Iron Giant so special. The movie is also surprisingly funny, with one scene in particular (think high school revenge shenanigans) that had me laughing out loud as hard as I can remember during any 2018 release. John Cena also brings charm and humor to a role that could easily be a throwaway character and continues to be a surprising addition to any movie he’s cast in.

All in all, Bumblebee was a very satisfying experience. Transformers fans should love it and for those that have grown tired of the franchise, it is truly a breath of fresh air and by far the most pleasing film in the series. It gets a solid recommendation from me.

Replay Value: Definitely worth watching again.

Sequel Potential: The next Transformers movie will probably give us the level of suck we’ve grown accustomed to.

Oscar Potential: Having already been left off the Visual Effects shortlist, it’s probably unlikely Bumblebee will get consideration in the sound categories and has no shot at any other nominations.

Dina Meter: She would love it!

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)