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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 »

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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.

A SPOILERS PLACE

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ritual

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 »

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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 »

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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.

SPOILERS HO!

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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:

https://soundcloud.com/evan-mccoy/top15recording

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
Wheelman
Okja
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
Colossal
Logan Lucky
Kong: Skull Island
The Bad Batch
Spiderman: Homecoming
The Girl with All the Gifts
The Florida Project
Logan
The Void
Dave Made a Maze

Movies I Didn’t See:

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

 

 

I’ve never done a list for games any previous year I’ve done year-end lists (which have always been strictly for movies). I don’t follow music closely enough and honestly, I don’t really follow games closely enough either. At the same time, so many games get released every year that I definitely play enough new ones (and more or less complete them) in a given year to do a small year end list. Some people have asked me to do one for games in the past, too, but I never have. I do periodically review games, such as this massive piece on Mass Effect: Andromeda (spoiler: it’s not on my best list) but have not reviewed any of the games on this list so what I have to say about them here will have to do it. This “Top 5 Games” list should be a bit of a tasty appetizer, I hope, before I get into the movie lists. This is the seventh consecutive year I’ve done them on WordPress, by the way. I’ve been doing them for over ten years if you go back to old Livejournal posts (but let’s not).

Some housekeeping: This list won’t feature some of the really anticipated games, partly because I won’t include games I have played but not beaten (like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) but also because I’ll be leaving off Early Access games as well. I’d like to include Ark: Survival Evolved, since it’s great and probably best-in-class for its type of game, but it would feel a bit disingenuous to do so since I’ve been playing it for like two years and haven’t really gotten into it for a while, which includes all the new content they’ve been doing for the past year and since it finally went full release. There’s also that some of my favorite gaming experiences this year (Darkest Dungeon, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun and Owlboy stand out) came when I was catching up on last year’s games. And no, I still haven’t played Undertale. Other disclaimers? Well, there’s always the fact that some games are considered “new releases” on particular consoles which can be a problem for a list like this in that I’m not even sure if I failed to include certain games I technically could due to the platform I played them on. And, as always, there’s the disclaimer that this list is subjective and more about me categorizing my favorites than trying to make a case for why everybody’s list should look like mine (which they should not and do not).

Remember, folks: this shit is just for fun. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dianne!

I’ve got to try and knock this one out quickly because this movie will not make my end of year list and I have this feeling I’m going to get slapped over it even though the reality is that no one is gonna care. 2017 is too good a year for this perfectly fine and occasionally poignant coming of age story to break into my list. It’s on a lot of other peoples’ and that’s totally cool. I’m not here to say it’s a bad movie but I definitely have some issues with it that I needed to write about. That stuff is more likely what’s going to get me into trouble with people who really loved Lady Bird and likely did not see in it what I saw.

In one sense, I found it underwhelming because it’s a movie that I’ve basically seen before. And so have you. Its emotional honesty is a little more pronounced, its set-ups and pay-offs a little truer to life and ambiguous, and its specific angle of observation is so specific that a certain category of viewer is going to feel like this movie is speaking directly to them. I like that about it and I think that’s the stuff that is most directly responsible for how well this film is being received. But there’s another reason it’s doing so well and this is because, thematically, it is essentially validating the perspective on youth that people who are not young tend to have.  There’s a way to read this film as being totally about growing beyond your past, but I think that’s disingenuous and requires taking the film on faith when too much of the text is devoted to examples of people’s attempts to be forge their own identities, whether its piercings or nicknames, being trivialized and walked back in favor of convention and reinforcement of boundaries.

I think writer-director Greta Gerwig might be the kind of millennial who’s totally cool with having to cover up her tattoos and she has, intentionally or not, made a movie steeped with that kind of lame, superficial social conservatism. As a result I think that as much as it might be true to life in some of its observations of what being young was like in 2002, it’s still a film about young people but for older people. Personally, I think that’s kind of disappointing especially in a coming of age story about people who are my age and what life was like, very broadly, for us. I identified with living my dumb little dramatic teen life with the War on Terror as a backdrop, but there was very little else in this film that spoke to my experience. As a result, my criticisms may seem too specific to my own biases to really be objective and I’m okay with that. You may see a very different movie than I do in Lady Bird and I think my critical approach is less about trying to convince anyone that it’s overrated and more about explaining why I didn’t love it. It feels like we have to look to the nerdy, fantastic, and escapist to find reflections of actual rebellion, transgression, and radical change. Did Lady Bird need to be those things? No. But I’m a bit tired of stories that want us to go back to the way things were when we really need to find a way to move on. Read the rest of this entry »

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These two do all the heavy lifting. They have a lot of chemistry without which this movie wouldn’t even work a little bit.

Bright is, in its own weird way, as divisive a movie as The Last Jedi. But kind of in reverse? General audiences seem to like it but critics fucking hate it. Well, I don’t hate it. I think it’s pretty great for what it is, but what it is seems to bother some people that don’t want to meet it on its own terms. I don’t really blame them, the way I might with other films, but it is worthwhile to point out that many of the criticisms are misguided. For one thing, can you blame this movie for being derivative of David Ayer’s own earlier work if that was entirely the point of the exercise? You can’t ignore that Bright basically remakes/recycles parts of Training Day and End of Watch and mixes in elements from a host of other movies and games, including Alien Nation and Shadowrun. It’s a big ol’ stew and it is frequently messy, but is that in itself bad or dumb? I say no. At the same time, I get why it might result in a lot of skepticism and impatience for viewers.

Max Landis wrote this movie for Ayer to direct (he also rewrote it) precisely because the concept was a mash-up of Ayer’s best cop movies and what is best described as “fantasy shit” (there’s a little more to it, but just a little). I’m not saying this makes it a good idea, or a good result, but it’s also kind of dumb to ignore where this movie came from when there’s no way it should ever be viewed as this independent self-contained thing. It’s not even a self-contained story. One of the more reasonable criticisms of it is that it feels more like a two-hour pilot for a TV show than it does a movie, especially with its ending. After watching it, I definitely wanted to hang out in this world more (and with these characters) and I’m not surprised that Netflix immediately green-lit a sequel. This project just feels like the start of a bigger story, rightly or wrongly. Landis and Ayer are both divisive figures themselves. They’re both white dudes who have gotten into trouble for speaking for non-white non-dudes in the wider discourse if identity politics and representation. They both seem to essentially mean well but have difficulty getting past their own privilege and the way it informs the way they talk (about race especially). Landis is viewed by many as a douchebag millennial poster-boy whose main talent is nepotism (his dad is John Landis) and occasionally clever remixes of other peoples’ work. He occasionally earns those opinions, but I think his work has been mostly good. Channel Zero and Chronicle are legitimately good things. Dirk Gently seems okay, American Ultra was okay, and Mr. Right was like an alt-version of American Ultra that is better, lesser known, and fairly underrated. Ayer, on the other hand, seems to shit out gold in one hand and… well, shit out shit in the other. This is a guy whose last two movies were Suicide Squad and Fury. To say he has a range in quality is an understatement. Even before that he seemed to be making one good movie out of every two, though I’d argue that both Sabotage and Harsh Times (his weaker ones) are head and shoulders better than Suicide Squad. Get these guys to make a movie together and the hope is that it combines what both of them are best at. I think on that level, we’re mostly getting just that but what your reaction is will depend a lot on whether you’re even here for whatever Max Landis and David Ayer are doing.

Though I thought it was a fun movie that had some dramatic and thematic legs, I can’t argue against the fact that Bright doesn’t really work when either of the two halves of its make-up is examined on its own merits. Bright is too derivative of its director’s own earlier work to stand up as a cop movie. Its world-building and fantasy elements are similarly familiar (derivative) for people who’ve seen or read Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings. So your mileage on this whole crazy thing is going to vary depending on whether this fusion can work for you. Tropes and iconography can be referenced in a way that is meant to do all the work for the audience to buy into a world, which was one of the biggest problems with Suicide Squad. Landis is maybe better at that stuff than Ayer and I would argue that the litmus test for enjoying what Bright is doing is whether you think he/they pulled it off here. Bright expects you to understand the iconography and tropes enough to roll with what it’s doing, the hope being that the fusion will add some depth to what are too fairly shallow halves. That depth of world is necessary to buy into it enough to roll further with the movie’s themes, which are really about power, class, and race relations. This is the real meat, because this movie is very political. It’s not a super deep dive on any one of these points, but there is something to be said for the fact that the movie doesn’t treat race, class, and power as separate issues, instead drawing connections and pointing at the things “SJWs” have been saying since before there was a dismissive and ironically shitty acronym to describe people who stand up for other people. I think that identity politics and progressive messages (representation, tolerance, etc) are the kind of thing you have to re-iterate from as many facets and angles as you can. That didn’t used to be the approach. Stories that talked about race or class tended to ignore the other side of the coin, failing to make necessary connections between the ways these social issues are linked. There’s also that privilege makes people stubborn so maybe this movie’s orcs will be what finally clicks race and class intersections in street gang culture for some white boy watching it on his computer, one tab on Netflix and the other on InfoWars. Maybe seeing orcs in Crips drag is what does it. I doubt that’s expressly what Ayer or Landis are trying to do, but it isn’t lost on me that the more narratives (and types of narratives) speaking to these issues the better. The dudes who are very predisposed to watching The Last Jedi or Bright may not be the same dudes who watch Selma or Get Out or even Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri but all of these movies are saying some things in common that they, maybe more than anyone, need to hear. Read the rest of this entry »

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