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This is a movie where magical colorful stones… well, we’ve come a long way.

I’m not going to waste your or my time talking about the achievement of the MCU after ten years and eighteen movies. That’s been well documented elsewhere. The Avengers: Infinity War is like the first of a two-part season finale for the biggest TV show on the planet and that does make it hard to review without cataloging all the previous seasons and episodes. A retrospective on the MCU might be in the cards for me sometime (this summer maybe?) but I’m not going to do it now when there’s so much to say about this movie.

The most important thing is whether Infinity War brings the goods, but at the same time this is peak MCU and you probably already know what to expect on that level. That baseline level of quality, which the MCU redefines every few installments, makes it even more appealing to focus on minutiae like who we think is gonna die and which character got exactly what amount of screen time and why that might be. So yeah, the quality level is high overall and you’re going to be pleased unless you fixate too much on that kind of ancillary stuff which drives so much of the 24/7/365 hype cycle we too quickly indulge. This results in a lot of nitpicking and wrong-headed “analysis” masquerading as legitimate takes or criticism. I’m not saying “turn your brain off”, because I never say that. I am saying that people should make sure they understand what dramatic stakes are before they cite that as a critique.

Interestingly, especially for the MCU haters, Infinity War is also the epitome of the MCU’s willingness to set up and then subvert expectations. This is a delicate game to play with fans who will spend hours gobbling up even the most minute details, debating theories and betting on likelihoods, and just basically obsessing about a movie like this one. That game is delicate because some of the backlash comes from that very subversion. People often fixate on what they think they want, leaving them disappointed or even offended (which I think is ridiculous) when things don’t go “their” way. The people behind the MCU understand the intersection of media and instant gratification they are grappling with, so they seem to occasionally pull a trick. The Mandarin of Iron Man 3 or even the tone and pace of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 show a willingness to misdirect and subvert expectations. Infinity War has been utilizing misdirection practically since Day 1 of the marketing push. The movie itself is full of clever and occasionally subtle subversions. I appreciate this kind of thing, because it shows that the Russos and the rest of the team are wise enough to be aware of how certain things are going to come across, especially with a movie that we’ve been looking forward to this long. In the end, it’s that willingness to surprise that makes Infinity War worth the wait.

INFINITY SPOILERS Read the rest of this entry »



In case anyone forgot what this means.

A Quiet Place is probably going to be one of the more overrated movies of the year. It’s getting rave reviews, lots of positive word of mouth, etc. But it doesn’t really deserve all that. It’s not terrible by any means, but it’s no slam dunk and is not at all an “instant horror classic”. They said the same shit about It Comes at Night and as trite as that one turned out to be, it was still better than this (owing mostly to Chris Abbot). Hell, Signs was better than this and if it was going to take three writers to basically rewrite Signs, they really should have made sure their movie was a step up.

I say this because once you get past the uniqueness of the situation in the movie, there’s not much left to chew on. This wouldn’t really be a problem if the remainder wasn’t a series of increasingly stupid contrivances that sap the integrity of the story, which is too simple and sentimental to carry it through that. I think this is a writing and structure problem which becomes readily apparent when the third act kicks in and A Quiet Place becomes a very loud, relentlessly “scary” place. You see the creatures too much, drawing the same uncomfortable comparisons to other stuff (Stranger Things in this case) that many of the plot points do to Signs or even Hidden. There’s also that the movie stops following its own established rules, acts like spinning out a reveal that was contrived from the get-go is cathartic, and so on. It becomes laughable and I found myself chuckling through a lot of the last twenty minutes or so. I’ll remind you that I’m here for horror movies, even dumb ones, and A Quiet Place needed to be especially dumb and inconsistent for me to react this way.

I expect that there’s going to be a lot of big buzz about this early on, and then a quieter reappraisal of the movie as “just okay”. It’s too bad, because I really liked the first half and was able to buy into the simplicity and sentimentality of the story up to a certain point. I was worried about the characters and there were several very effective scenes early on. There’s also a lot of quieter moments in the first half, building up some scraps of intelligent world-building that the movie could have used a lot more of.


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Been a fan for a while, glad to see this kid breaking wide.

Spielberg isn’t a master because he managed to turn a mostly terrible book by Ernest Cline into a mostly good movie. He’s a master because he managed to keep this masturbatory, self-congratulatory and self-referential engine of self-promotion from being a nonstop cringe-fest. I don’t know how he did it. Scholars will study Ready Player One to unlock the mysteries of director’s making movies that are really just nonstop commercials for the 80’s and themselves (at their peak) and this somehow being… fun? Even if this is the only time it ever happens, it’ll be fascinating to look back on Ready Player One a few years from now as a wash of projects try and fail to ape this or that aspect of its success.

I expected Ready Player One to be better than the book by sheer virtue of being a movie. I think it stumbles over some of the more difficult aspects of adapting a book as expository as this one, resulting in an overly-expository movie that doesn’t dot every i or cross every t to quite the extent it could have. But in general, it boils down the trashier and more wheel-spinny aspects of the novel into simpler, essential elements that are at once surprising in their lack of cynicism and cheerfully cheesy in the way that Amblin movies usually have been.

I don’t buy everything Ready Player One is selling, not by a long shot, but it’s hard to deny that Spielberg knew exactly how to give such a broad cartoon enough oomph, crunch, and basic emotional depth to keep it from being just a commercial. It’s no Lego Movie, though, and has a pat, old man’s ethos which I’m sure will turn off the more astute and socially aware audience members. Especially those who aren’t pacified by repetitive inclusions of video game or comic book characters bought and paid for by huge corporations like Activision and DC much like ad-space on a NASCAR track. There’s probably a greater portion of the audience that will respond to the pandering in exactly the way they’re intended to, but I hope this very obvious ploy can be looked past so that Ready Player One is understood as deeply self-contradictory along with all the other ways it revolves around itself. The list could get longer than it already has. It’s a testament to Spielberg’s raw ability as a filmmaker that this doesn’t sink the movie, that the specific scenes and nuts and bolts storytelling are strong enough to rise above the emptiness at the heart of it all.


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I am the fish man what doesn’t fuck.

So I should have had this review up last night (when it was Friday) but I went and saw Ready Player One and missed my window. Still, felt the need to write about The Titan partly because I won’t be writing about two other mostly bad Netflix movies I’ve seen recently: The Cloverfield Paradox and The Outsider. I know there’s been this narrative going lately about how Netflix is way more about quantity than quality, and they’re greenlighting or acquiring a lot of mediocre movies, which is sullying their brand. There’s also the disruptive element of their presence in the marketplace which forces the big film institutions like the studios, theater chains, and even Cannes to react to them in childish, market-driven ways while hiding the reality behind lofty, vague assertions of cinematic purity. I’m still here for Netflix and yes, I do believe they deserve awards consideration at both the Oscars (for whatever little that’s worth) and Cannes.

But none of that makes The Titan a good movie. It certainly won’t change any minds about Netflix’s sketchy standards. The main issue with this one is that it’s pretty interesting for about the first forty minutes only to abandon all sense and credibility for one of the worst third acts I’ve seen recently. Interestingly, the problems in The Cloverfield Paradox and the wet fart The Open House were similarly silly, broken departures from whatever elements were working beforehand. There’s probably room for a great deal of discussion around the prevalence of broken, shitty second acts in major Hollywood genre movies versus the nose-dive third acts of smaller, mid-budget movies of the type Netflix seems to love picking up. This won’t be that, but maybe keep it in mind as we roll. Read the rest of this entry »


They know what y’all are here for.

All right so we all know that I fucking loved the first Pacific Rim. I’ve grown to love it even more than I did when I first wrote that review. I think it remains a severely underrated movie. Everybody overstates the dumb Saturday Morning cartoon of it all and understates the, at the time anyway, very refreshing themes and story progression. Heroes who see the world falling apart and don’t “resist the call”. People from all over the world getting together to fix a big problem that’s been insufficiently addressed. The analogies weren’t and aren’t hard to spot. They aren’t hard to spot this time around, either. This is a movie that is even more directly aimed at kids than the first was, and boy was it. Pacific Rim: Uprising ups the ante by having a significant portion of its secondary cast actually being kids, which while waving away the specter of child soldiers also feels more right given the genre origins of this movie. In the anime, cartoons, and video games that Pacific Rim owes so much to, the heroes are always teens rather than washed up 20 or 30-somethings.

But in general, Uprising gets really close to being at least as good as the first while never quite being able to make it stick. The direction is fine, Steven S. DeKnight really showing he can handle something this grandiose. There were four writers on this, though, and I’ve spoken often about what a bad sign that is. This means the movie we get is cobbled together out of several drafts and none of them quite cracked it or managed to make the movie totally cohesive. Instead, it feels like a headlong rush through too many plotpoints and character arcs, many of which are resultingly underserved. I liked the kids and I liked what the movie was trying to say about the fate of the world resting in the hands of a new generation. Too bad the test audiences probably liked John Boyega and Scott Eastwood more. There’s an unfair criticism being made, by the way, about the “focus group” visual nature of this movie. Lots of people have been dismissive of it as looking too much like Transformers or the recent (and decent) Power Rangers movie. Thing is, all of these giant colorful robot properties are echoing the same basic influences. Mostly from anime. It shouldn’t surprise people that they look somewhat alike any more than it surprises people that most first-run superhero movies are origin stories.

Flawed though it may be, Uprising is often delightful. It’s silly, even sillier than the first one, but feels a lot more in on its own fun. This manifests everywhere from Boyega’s loose, charming performance to the color palette and emphasis on daytime fights (night fights being a common criticism of the first movie’s visuals). The story might give you whiplash with its parade of reversals, last minute saves, and contrivances… but ultimately it hangs together in its shaggy way without every really rising above the more stable, but just as functional story from the first Pacific Rim. If this movie needed anything, it was a trimmed down story with more time for the elements to breathe.  That said, if you’re here for giant robots tearing shit up with everything else being somewhat secondary, it sure does deliver. Read the rest of this entry »


Horror fan shouldn’t sleep on this one.

Some people are rather wrong-headedly referring to Netflix’s The Ritual as a Blair Witch also-ran or “The Descent with boys”. There’s some aesthetic overlap with the former and some set-up overlap with the latter, but The Ritual‘s story and themes have very little to do with either of those films. Or any other horror film I’ve seen for that matter. Doesn’t mean this is an instant classic, but it’s a pretty confident and robust movie with a ton on its mind –things that may not be immediately apparent if you don’t try and dig in a little and see what it’s saying about masculinity, fear, courage, and what we’re willing to give up to be safe and secure. Directed by David Bruckner and based on the novel by Adam Nevill, I’ll leave it to those who’ve read it to tell me whether it’s pretty close or does its own thing. I do plan to read it now, based on the strength of the movie alone. I saw this before I saw Annihilation (review soon I think) but that movie had the same effect. I immediately went and bought the book(s) and those ones are pretty different.

Anyways, a solid and unusual exploration of an interesting theme isn’t the only thing that makes The Ritual worth checking out. For horror fans, there’s a ton of spooky imagery and a creeping sense of dread that pulses through the movie. On top of that, it seems like the type of horror movie where they hold the monster back because they’re not confident about the effects or what its overall “scare” factor will be. But it turns out that it’s the opposite. This movie is fully confident about its monster and though it waits to show it off, when it does it’s full speed ahead and I’ve got to say that it’s one of the creepiest and most interesting monsters I’ve seen in a movie for a long time. The only thing that’ll top it in 2018, I’d wager, is the creepy fucking bear in Annihilation. That guy is one of the all-time scariest movie creatures though so the bar ain’t low.

SPOILERS AHEAD Read the rest of this entry »


We get you.

Mute is a frustrating film. That much can be gleaned from the reviews, the best of which call it a mixed bag while the rest are too busy with the hyperbole of extremely low review scores, hot takes, and “worst movie ever” braying that can be understood to say more about the reviewer than the movie they’re on about. That’s sort of a downside of writing film criticism, or any kind of criticism: the more passionate you are, the more of yourself is leaking in. Too much and you’re obnoxious or, the favorite watch-word of an internet that could give a fuck about criticism as a form, “biased”. Too little and you’re leaning too heavily on description or plot recaps and wasting everybody’s time.

It’s obvious that creative pursuits also have the kind of relationship to what the author puts into it that a movie like Mute has. If it’s too much of a passion project, maybe it’s a self-indulgent mess that took fifteen years to greenlight for good reason. Too little and it’s just another Blade Runner/90’s hipster crime also-ran, only dated as fuck because we’ve collectively moved on from a lot of what you’re trying to do narratively or aesthetically.

Mute frequently feels like both of these things are happening at the same time. Some background information about how this movie came to be should be required, but at the end of the day, that stuff hardly matters. What really matters is whether it’s good or bad, right? Which side of the dichotomy does it belong on. Most people are going to say bad, and they’re not exactly wrong. But I wouldn’t be writing this if there weren’t more to say, if Mute was only bad. It is, in many ways, Southland Tales all over again. For others, it’s going to feel a bit like a lesser William Gibson novel. Probably the best way to view Mute is as Gibson likely did: a work of aesthetics-over-story which is mainly trying to get us immersed in a near-future Berlin underworld of crime, larceny, and darker deeds. Unsurprisingly, he liked it. I’d say that I liked this aspect of it, but there’s far more going on here and most of it is less successful. Read the rest of this entry »


And now for that other movie about fish people.

I think people will sleep on Cold Skin as it doesn’t seem destined for any kind of theatrical release. I was lucky enough to see it so while I often write reviews for films a lot of people are gonna see anyway, it’s nice to be able to write one for something a bit more obscure. I should really do this more because strong indie movies like Cold Skin are definitely out there and I see my fair share of them.

The trailer is a little unclear about what kind of movie you’re going to get. It’s mostly a horror movie, but a thoughtful one that deftly mixes unusual thematic ambition with a pretty deft fusion of both monster movie and gothic horror tropes. It’s a bit of a siege movie, too, with a lot of running time spent on fending off the assaults of a seemingly endless horde of violent monsters. But there’s more going on than that.

Cold Skin is also colonial narrative, sometimes skewing into allegory but often happy to be fairly straightforward and maybe even on the nose. It’s worth noting that as obvious as the allegory is, Cold Skin is never preachy or aggressive about its themes. It’s more contemplative, taking its time to arrive at the conclusions and ideas that the audience may already be on board with. This doesn’t mean it’s unsatisfying watching the events play out. Far from it. Partly this is because there’s a mostly subtle romantic through-line in the film that makes it a little bit like The Shape of Water. That film had different thematic priorities, but could be seen as an interesting companion piece. They both play around with horror tropes while also presenting narratives that are about how and why humans mistake the other as monstrous. In this case, it’s through the prism of colonialism, played out on a small scale on a deserted volcanic island somewhere in the remote waters of the South.


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Vibrant color and unusual images are a big part of what sets this movie apart visually.

Watching Black Panther occasionally felt like I was glimpsing a superhero movie from an alternate world. The obvious way to parse that statement is to focus on the virtually all-black cast or that 99% of the dialogue is delivered in heavy African accents. Of course, these things make Black Panther unique among not only superhero movies, but also big budget “tent-poles” as well. There’s really never been a movie like this one and it, for lack of a better word, shows. But for me, the otherworldly quality of Black Panther had to do with the ways it’s familiar as well as different. The juxtaposition of the MCU movie, in terms of story priorities and aesthetics, and Black Panther as something wholly its own thing, is an interesting and impressive one. And it plays out in every frame of the movie.

Another quality that might make you feel like you’re watching a movie from another, better dimension is how there’s no pandering to the assumptions of a white male audience. Not only is Black Panther brazenly, unflinchingly feminist, it’s also not really about race in the way we would expect a movie for white people (but about black people) to be. It’s not out to educate white folks about the issues of race they may be sleeping on or resistant to. Instead, it’s assuming the audience gets it already by virtue of being black or woke or both and if not, can catch the fuck up. It assumes the audience understands terms like “colonizer” (or will quickly infer and understand it) and takes it as a given that images of Africa are often wrong-headed and reductive. In other words, it assumes the intelligence and awareness of the viewer. That’s rare these days.

Through its fantasy-tinged blend of Afro-futurism and homages to a broad spectrum of African cultures, Black Panther is assuming people won’t utterly miss the point by getting hung up on “Wakanda isn’t real” and instead understanding that it fucking is real. It’s an aspiration to an ideal that is nonetheless based on and informed by murkier realities. Wakanda isn’t Camelot, or the mythic City on the Hill. But it also sort of is. While confronting about a dozen other thorny, difficult sociopolitical issues, director and co-writer (with Joe Robert Cole) Ryan Coogler makes some time to also address that even a place that sees itself as the African ideal also has problems. No City on the Hill should forget what’s under that hill, or around it, and it’s that attention to broader ramifications (from a consistently fresh perspective) that makes Black Panther so much more than just a “black superhero movie”. But of course, it is that too. And if a “black superhero movie” has so much more to offer than the average “white superhero movie”, we’ve all got to rethink some shit.

That all said, Black Panther is still a movie. And it’s not a perfect one. Its two most noticeable flaws are relatively minor, though, and it manages to subvert expectations on the movie mechanics places where Marvel typically falls a bit short (formula and villains). The first of the flaws plays into the feeling of wanting more that people might have as the movie ends. The plot is in a huge hurry, leaving a few emotional moments or setups/payoffs with not enough time to fully breathe. That means the smaller, subtler moments do more heavy lifting. That’s not a terrible balance, in the end, meaning the movie kind of has itself covered. The second flaw is that its big battle sequence at the end doesn’t work the way it should, feeling kind of like it was added late in production and never quite polished to the same degree the rest of the movie is. Mileage will vary on that one, though, but I don’t think it will on Black Panther in general. The glowing reviews aren’t some attempt to get on the right side of a cultural moment. It is a legitimately great movie and an exemplary MCU movie.

SPOILERS FOREVER. Read the rest of this entry »

EDIT: Here’s a recorded version with blurbs for each of the movies and some of the extra shit I usually say when I do one of these:

Hopefully I never have to do that again, because:

Fucking WordPress ate the four hours of work I put into this. I’m disgusted because there’s no fucking reason why hitting “publish” should publish a post but with no text in it, which is exactly what happened. Maybe I should switch platforms. So anyway, here’s a way truncated version:

15. Wonder Woman
14. Baby Driver
13. War for the Planet of the Apes
12. Dunkirk
11. Thor: Ragnarok
10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
9. John Wick: Chapter 2
8. A Ghost Story
7. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
6. GotG Vol 2
5. It
4. Blade Runner 2049
3. Get Out
2. Mother!
1. Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri

Honorable Mentions:

Super Dark Times
Creep 2
The Big Sick
I, Tonya
The Lego Batman Movie
The Little Hours
Ingrid Goes West
Marjorie Prime
Gerald’s Game
Wind River
Brigsby Bear
T2: Trainspotting
The Lost City of Z
Free Fire
Logan Lucky
Kong: Skull Island
The Bad Batch
Spiderman: Homecoming
The Girl with All the Gifts
The Florida Project
The Void
Dave Made a Maze

Movies I Didn’t See:

Phantom Thread
The Post
The Beguiled
The Shape of Water
Molly’s Game
Murder on the Orient Express
Darkest Hour
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
All the Money in the World
Call me by Your Name
The Foreigner
Song to Song
Good Time
Battle of the Sexes
Happy Death Day
The Hero
Roman J Israel, Esq.
Personal Shopper
Loving Vincent
The Square




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