Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Two Thousand and Eighteen Movies

With the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 came a massive 2018 movie catch-up! Gosh, what a fantastic year for film.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies: I have never seen an episode of this show, but from all accounts, it was not necessary to appreciate this movie, and those accounts were CORRECT. The Teen Titans helpfully sing a song about themselves to identify their basic origins and powers, and each one has a distinct speech pattern, so it's easy to jump right into this story about Robin wanting his own superhero movie, which becomes a delightful parody of superhero movies from both DC and Marvel that revels in metahumor so hard that the most hilarious gag is about the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne (and the second-most hilarious gag is about the possible death of a random character conjured up for one of many amusing songs). The freewheeling plot totally works and actually ends up coming together in the end, though the weakest aspects of the film are its superhero action scenes. And there's a strong if obvious message about ~*friendship*~, so it's great for kids and adults alike! Also this movie actually has good jokes about farts and butts. B+

Your Name: Makoto Shinkai's 2016 film came with a lot of hype around it, being the highest grossing anime film of all time, and I tried to avoid learning much about it besides ZOMG IT'S AMAZING. The basic premise is that country girl Mitsuha and city boy Taki start switching bodies, which leads to comical mishaps but also...a growing sense of attachment. It only gets weirder from there, and Shinkai's script is especially clever at dropping foreshadowing all over the place and making sure that everything—each character, each scene, each shot—exists for a purpose. He subverts expectations sometimes and absolutely leans into them other times because there are some cinematic clichés that are universally powerful at evoking the right emotions so why not stick with the classics. Occasionally the animation itself is gorgeous. Through creative use of SFF tropes, Shinkai crafts an utterly lovely and emotionally affecting story of the cosmic connection between two people, the kind of connection we all hope to have with someone else. B+/A-

Madeline's Madeline: I was pretty sure I wouldn't like Madeline's Madeline and BOY WAS I EVER RIGHT. I could tell this was not a movie for me instantly and it continued to incessantly, actively put me off with everything from its visual style (half the movie is out of focus because That's What Makes It Art) to its musical score (extremely discordant and atonal because That's What Makes It Art), let alone the artsy story about making art that has some interesting ideas at its core regarding the way the director of this avant-garde acting/dance troupe exploits her lead actress's conflict with her mother for the sake of ~*art*~ but tells this story so incoherently and with apparent reverence for this mask-wearing interpretive dance that I could find no real way in. Rarely does anyone in this film act like a human being. There is one powerful scene near the end, and props to Helena Howard and all, but I sure was glad when this movie was finally over. C+

Leave No Trace: Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie are happily living in a public park until they're discovered and forced to enter the system and live in civilized society. This...does not last long. Debra Graniak directs with the cold harshness of reality, and by showing the story from the POV from a father and daughter who have chosen to live an alternative lifestyle, she forces us to confront what we consider "normal." Suddenly the very idea of enrolling a child in school or living in a house seems oppressive, if you'd prefer to do otherwise. At the same time, she allows Foster and McKenzie to show you that they may prefer different things. The plot meanders a bit too much for my tastes, with stops here and there as they look for a home (what IS a home, after all), and I think the bees might be a metaphor but who knows. The father-daughter relationship, however, drives the narrative, and that's all up to the excellent work by Foster and McKenzie, who give quiet, understated performances with a lot beneath them. I wish the film had given me a little more about why Foster was so averse to living among people ("veteran with PTSD" is pretty much the extent of it), but I accepted it because McKenzie accepted it. This is a thought-provoking, heartbreaking little film. B+

You Were Never Really Here: Joaquin Phoenix finds missing girls for a living, and he royally fucks up the people who take those girls. One day he's hired to recover the daughter of a senator, and things do not go smoothly. That's the "plot" of this movie, but the plot is not the point. Writer-director Lynne Ramsay crafts a searing meditation on violence told through the eyes of a man haunted by memories of what his father did to him and what he did to people in the military, all of which can maybe only be resolved by doing it all to himself. But until then, he can take it out on other people. Or maybe, just maybe, rescuing this one little blonde girl can rescue him from his own personal hell. Jonny Greenwood always scores to character, and the musical vibe always suits the moment, usually deliciously unnerving and tense. This is a rough, raw watch, but Ramsay also finds moments of beauty, like a lovely water burial or the feeling of hope in the slurp of a milkshake. I wasn't fully engaged all the time, and I couldn't follow everything past and present, but I got the general gist of what she was going for and by the end it was clear I had witnessed a real character journey. B/B+

Hearts Beat Loud: Record store owner Nick Offerman has regular "jam seshes" with his pre-med daughter Kiersey Clemons, and one day, they create ~*magic*~ with a song called "Hearts Beat Loud." Ol' Dad—whose singer wife died some time ago—is fucking HYPE to ride this out and start a serious band with his daughter, who is NOT having it. That's...basically the movie, which gets somewhat repetitive in its basic conflict of "Daughter, let's be in a band!"/"Ugh, Dad, no," but complements it with Clemons's relationship with her girlfriend, Sasha Lane—who is very supportive but doesn't have much of a personality beyond that—and Offerman's relationship with his landlady, Toni Colette—who is very supportive and has a bit more depth. Throw in Ted Danson as a bartender and you've got a pretty solid cast. All of these subplots don't necessarily carry the emotional weight they're designed to, but they do develop metaphors and offer a better picture of the two main characters as people, and what does work is the whole hipster indie musical vibe of this film in which Offerman watches a YouTube video of Jeff Tweedy and Clemons watches a YouTube video of Mitski. It's a movie about how music connects us, creating it and listening to it, and for all its narrative flaws, it ends up being a sweet and heartwarming experience. B+

The Death of Stalin: It's Russia 1953, and spoiler alert, Stalin dies. But because this is a movie by Armando Iannucci of In the Loop fame, the death of Stalin becomes a blackly comic farce about the resultant power struggle as several key government figures vie for dominance, namely Steve Buscemi and Simon Russell Beale, while a doofy Jeffrey Tambor is the ostensible ruler. This movie has an absurdist anarchic energy to it that can make it difficult to grasp since it's always plowing forward at breakneck speeds, never taking a moment to breathe. On top of that, this apparent historical drama makes little attempt to be historically accurate, as most of the cast speak with British accents, apart from Tambor and Buscemi, who seems both extraordinarily out of place and absolutely perfect. Jason Isaacs pops up halfway through and has a fucking BALL, and Andrea Riseborough is especially funny in a role completely unlike Mandy (I would have liked to see more of her). This is a movie that mines humor from the murders of 1500 civilians, and if that is not your bag, be forewarned, because this political satire is not for the sensitive. While it does have something to say about these cyclical squabbles and, intentionally or not, comes off as a comment on the current U.S. administration, it feels more like a collection of hilarious scenes/lines than a cohesive film (kind of like In the Loop, after all). B/B+

The Wife: Jonathan Pryce is being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Glenn Close is...the wife. OR IS SHE. It is pretty clear what the central conflict of this movie is, but it does not actually come to light for half the movie, except this movie has a one-track mind so there is not much else to it but that. Something something feminism, something something patriarchy, something something gender dynamics? I can't believe this movie is based on a novel because there's barely enough story here for a short story; it has the structure and scope of a short story, focusing on one character at a Key Moment in Her Life. Which is elucidated through painful flashbacks, my God, the quality of the writing and the acting in the flashbacks is...lesser than that of the action proper. Pryce is an asshole, Close is a supportive wife gritting her teeth through an unhappy marriage, none of this is particularly compelling. Glenn Close does do some excellent face-acting, really letting the subtext play out in her expressions, but that performance is not really worth sitting through this damn movie. B-

American Animals: In 2004, three Kentucky college boys and one Kentucky college dropout stole some rare books from a university library in broad fucking daylight. Writer-director Bart Layton dramatizes this heist as a film that also incorporates the real-life people involved, like a reverse Man on Wire where the fictional recreation is the main narrative. Like Widows, it doesn't glorify crime so much as examine the emotional toll it takes on those who did it when not inured to it. The writing, directing, acting, and musical score are all great, though it has perhaps a few too many scenes set to sixties songs. I absolutely loved the interplay between the fictional characters and their real-life counterparts and could have used even more of it, as it adds a whole new contemplative layer to what would already be an entertaining thriller. The experience of watching a HEIST FLICK that is at the same time a DOCUMENTARY is pretty fucking wild, and it makes you think and feel in ways the usual slickness of the genre avoids. B+/A-

Like Father, Like Son: After unexpectedly loving Shoplifters, I wanted to explore more of Hirokazu Kore-eda's filmography, and this film felt closest to that one in theme and content, and indeed it even shares a couple actors. A workaholic discovers that his six-year-old son Keita is in fact not his biological son, who actually ended up in the hands of a poor shopkeeper (Lily Andy, the dad from Shoplifters!). So now both families must decide what to do. This is a melodramatic premise that could easily devolve into over-the-top theatrics and sentimentality, but Kore-eda keeps things lovely and restrained. I found the film strangely emotionally detached, however, perhaps because the main character is so emotionally detached and not terribly likable. In fact, both dads in this scenario aren't that great, and it's the mothers who I was drawn to more. The story ebbs and flows, and it's certainly designed to make you think about What Makes a Family without being overly explicit about how it's exploring that idea. B+

A League of Their Own: As so often happens, a celebrity death spurs me to finally check out a classic film, and this time it was Penny Marshall's ode to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. I knew very little about this movie besides what was in the trailer, and it turns out to be a nice period piece with a perhaps overly sentimental frame story (my gosh, that nineties Zimmer score) that nevertheless just WORKS for over two hours, which is pretty impressive. It takes its time building the story and characters, finding a narrative backbone in the relationship between two sisters (Geena Davis, radiant as fuck with a Katharine Hepburn vibe, and Lori Petty, more grounded than her more unhinged work in Tank Girl and Orange Is the New Black) but never really giving its lively cast of supporting characters (Rosie O'Donnell! Madonna! Ann Cusack!) their due. I didn't realize Tom Hanks played such a dick in this movie, a washed-up drunk who, of course, slowly comes to respect these women as actual ballplayers. A full 25% of this movie is big band montages, as Penny Marshall doesn't seem super interested in drawing tension from an actual baseball game until the end, instead focusing on the characters' journeys, these women who finally find some pride in what they can do away from their men, though the movie does not really pooh-pooh women for loving their husbands. It's an entertaining, inspiring story of (white) female empowerment, for sure, a piece of film history that captures a piece of actual history. B+

Colette: Keira Knightley IS the mononymous Colette in this biopic about the greatest female writer in French literature, whose Claudine books took Paris by storm...published under her husband's name. Director Wash Westmoreland and his co-writers Rebecca Lenkiewicz and his late husband, Richard Glatzer, to whom the film is dedicated, go the traditional biopic route for this story, which works in that it really dives into the complex, fraught relationship between Colette and Willy and...their various extramarital dalliances with women (yes, both of them) but does make the movie feel its length at times. Halfway through, the energy begins to sag, but it picks back up, though the shifting focus to Colette's music hall career—despite being foreshadowed—feels like a left turn. It remains entertaining throughout, a light and breezy period piece that has some bite underneath but never drowns in its own self-importance—just look at the utter delight of the CLAUDINE BECOMES A POP CULTURE PHENOMENON montage in the middle of the film. Westmoreland doesn't overdo things visually, saving particularly striking shots for maximum impact, usually to show Colette's power. And, damn, what a final shot—looking back, I find Colette's transformation over the course of the film rather exhilarating. B+

Unbreakable: In anticipation of Glass, I revisited Unbreakable, which I felt very positive about overall, and it turns out...my thoughts from my original review I posted on IMDb so many years ago have basically not changed. I appreciate and admire M. Night Shayamalan's desire to treat a comic book story of superheroes and supervillains with the sort of arthouse gravitas we almost never see, but oh BOY is this movie self-serious. I love the use of reflected and upside-down shots to complement the comic book theme of duality, but oh BOY sometimes it feels like he's just shooting unconventionally for the sake of being unconventional. The long takes, though they do call attention to themselves, are lovely, but oh BOY the color palette of this film is dreary. I like a superhero origin story set in the real world, but oh BOY this film takes its damn TIME letting David Dunn finally accept his superherodom. This time around, I think I better appreciated the subplot of David's failing marriage, and I still think Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson give fine performances. But oh BOY that ending text was a terrible idea. I do think this movie is very good, but I think it overreaches and I'm not sure if it has enough to say. B+

Split: In anticipation of Glass, I revisited Split, which I felt very positive about overall, and it turns out...my thoughts from my original viewing three years ago have basically not changed. This is an incredibly strong, tense thriller with an incredible performance(s) from James McAvoy and great work from Anya Taylor-Joy. M. Night Shyamalan dispenses with a lot of the pretension that weighed him down in his early work, and apart from the grandiosity of the high-concept "supernatural DID" element and the way the psychiatrist and the Beast describe it, he focuses completely on telling a gripping story of survival and monsters. It falters a bit in the climax, and it's hard to suss out exactly what the movie is saying about abuse and suffering versus what the Beast's perspective is, but overall, it's a sign of a promising wunderkind director who's maybe figured out what really works for him. B+

Support the Girls: The Dissolve went wild for this under-the-radar indie comedy that actually ended up on a couple year-end lists. I was skeptical given its setting of a Hooters-style sports bar and all the promo photos being, well, young women in skimpy outfits, but for a movie written and directed by a man, it resists the male gaze, instead having a zero-tolerance policy for that shit. The action largely centers on one day at Double Whammies and follows general manager Regina Hall, who begins the day crying, which immediately makes you interested in why. Hall carries the whole weight of the movie on her shoulders and has to do a LOT emotionally and tonally to make this movie—which just effortlessly moves through many moods—work. She's the only person who gets a real character arc; for the most part Haley Lu Richardson remains a motherfucking ball of sunshine and Shayna McHayle remains Hall's protégé, although they do change a little by the end as well. This is kind of a hang-out movie in that there's not necessarily one driving plot but instead lots of little plots that come together to form a tapestry, and it generally worked for me because the little glimpses always suggested a larger picture. Overall, it's quite sweet and charming and deserves your support. B+

First Reformed: Reverend Ernst Toller isn't doing so hot, and he's doing even LESS hot after he talks to an environmental activist who's so shaken by what climate change will do to the planet that he wants to abort his child. The rapidity with which Toller falls down the climate change rabbit hole, as if he's never heard about any of this before, is kind of absurd, but it's also reasonable to believe that it's simply a matter of things happening at just the right time. He's dealing with a lot, and Paul Schrader doles out backstory piecemeal verbally and visually to give an indication of where this guy is at. Ethan Hawke is excellent in what is easily the best performance of his career (I've never really seen him lose himself in a character this hard before), and I found his character's journey gripping and compelling throughout, especially since he's constantly writing in a diary and giving us his internal thoughts (and the contrast between the way he talks in his internal monologue versus his natural speech is fun). Schrader not only shoots in 4:3 but also doesn't move the camera 95% of the time, trapping the action in a little box and refusing to budge, like a metaphor for humanity. This makes the occasional moments of dynamism a fresh jolt of energy. At times the film is very trite and obvious in how it gets across its themes; it's jarring whenever it becomes a PSA. And after it builds up some very effective suspense, the ending is kinda BALLS. But overall it's thoughtful and thought-provoking. B+

Lean on Pete: Charlie's life is so bad he has to worry about roaches getting in his breakfast cereal, and it only gets worse from there. But maybe there's a glimmer of light in this racehorse named Lean on Pete? That he then goes on a road trip with, finally, nearly halfway or more through the movie? This is an intensely slow movie, and Andrew Haigh largely films with an objective eye, allowing the dialogue and onscreen action to have whatever effect they are supposed to have. Unfortunately, that effect was to bore me, and then to astound me with the amount of tragedy he continued to heap upon this poor fucking kid. Charlie Plummer hangdogs his way through this movie, his voice barely rising above a mumble, and honestly near the end I just wanted him to die so he could be put out of his misery. I did like the occasional moments of kindness from strangers who took him in, but overall, I struggled to understand what I was supposed to get out of this story, especially because I thought there would be a lot more boy-and-his-horse cuteness than there actually was. I never understood Charlie's attachment to Pete, specifically. I don't know. It's well made, I suppose, but this just really was not my kind of movie. B-

The Rider: In the opening minutes of The Rider, Chloé Zhao tells you all you need to know about Lakota Sioux cowboy Brady Blackburn, a fictionalized version of Lakota Sioux cowboy Brady Jandreau, who is the man we see onscreen. He was once a rodeo star, but he had a head injury, and now he can no longer do what he loves. For the next 100 minutes, we watch Brady struggle with that truth. That's it, that's the movie, and while the lack of a strong narrative expectedly proved to be a mild struggle for me, I didn't mind nearly as much as I otherwise would thanks to Zhao's warm, achingly human direction. I actually didn't find out that I was watching untrained actors until about a half-hour in, when I felt compelled to look up whether Brady's sister, who has Asperger's—and is also adorable as hell and sings some sweet songs—and Lane Scott, a friend of Brady's with severe brain damage, were played by neurotypical or able-bodied actors and discovered that no, I was seeing real people portray themselves. Zhao captures gorgeous landscapes as well as the majesty of horses, and Nathan Halpern's simple score complements the visuals. Except for one moment where the subtext unnecessarily becomes text after I totally got it and felt good for getting it, Zhao chronicles Blackburn's journey pretty clearly through his actions, frequently filming him from the back, moving forward, and then cutting to a shot of him now facing the camera, looking backward. As the film neared the end, I kept wondering what sort of conclusion the story was leading to. At the very least, I knew he didn't DIE, but was this going to be the story of How Brady Got His Groove Back or the story of How Brady Finally Accepted He Would Never Get His Groove Back? I won't say which, if either, but I will say I cried, and I don't think it was only because I have a terrible cold. B+

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: The Coen Brothers put together an anthology of Western stories in the classic tradition, and, sure, they do a nice job with production value and getting the feel right, but argh, these fucking "stories." "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" is a strong, delightful start, with the titular character being a mash-up of innocent bard and badass gunman, and then nothing else in the movie lives up to that quirky creativity. "Near Algodones" is all set-up and no payoff. "Meal Ticket" tells its story largely through visuals, with very little dialogue, and while I didn't love the ending, it was at least well told. "All Gold Canyon" was my favorite tale, with Tom Waits as a grizzled prospector (is there any other kind?) on the hunt for gold. "The Gal Who Got Rattled" has promise until the abrupt and random ending. And "The Mortal Remains," which takes place entirely in a carriage, failed to engage me with its colorful characters talking about...whatever. Overall, it's a decent tribute to the genre, with the Coens clearly enjoying the stylized dialogue, but I prefer more revisionist Westerns that don't fall back on Native Americans as savages and women as objects or fairly useless. B

Minding the Gap: Chinese skateboarder Bing Liu chronicles the lives of two of his skateboarding friends, a white kid named Zack, whose relationship with his babymama is fraught, and a black kid named Keire, who is the heart and soul of this fucking movie. The documentary tackles a whole host of issues, immediately touching on masculinity (Zack muses on how the concept was taught to him by his father) and occasionally touching on race (Keire sometimes grapples with being the only black kid in his group of white friends), but the central topic at hand is domestic abuse (as well as "today they would call it child abuse"). While Liu makes himself a key subject in this story, he does not make the movie about him, always focusing on Zack and Keire and using his own story—despite the fact that it was the impetus for this project—to complement theirs without overshadowing them. It's a starkly honest portrayal that allows the abusers and the abused to be complex creatures, and even before it's made explicit, it's clear that skateboarding has been a welcome escape for these kids. Zack's growing baby marks the passage of time, and I marveled at how much footage Liu had to have to cut together to make this damn thing, as well as his restraint in not sensationalizing potentially more dramatic aspects. I loved his pointed use of billboards to comment on the action, as if to say, "Well, society recognizes there's a problem, see, it's solved, right?" Despite the loose narrative, I was generally along for the ride, and Liu does build to some quietly devastating moments in the end. B+

Skate Kitchen: Long Island sk8er girl Camille finds solace from her overbearing mother in a New York City all-girl skateboard group called Skate Kitchen, based on the actual New York all-girl skateboard group Skate Kitchen (the skaters play fictionalized versions of themselves). It was a refreshing change of pace from the all-male energy of mid90s and Minding the Gap (2018 was not only The Year of the Horse but also The Year of the Skateboard, apparently); you're never going to get a scene in those movies where the skaters discuss whether tampons can kill you. The film is lovingly shot, and the sense of found family is quite apparent, especially since Camille has problems with her actual family; of course her mother wants her to stop skateboarding and of course these girls accept her, that's how these stories go. The loose narrative eventually began to lose me, funnily enough around the same time that, like mid90s, it started to introduce some ~*conflict*~ to spice things up, and although the resolution of that conflict is similarly unearned, I bought it more here since the actual conflict wasn't that big a deal anyway. B/B+

The Kindergarten Teacher: Maggie Gyllenhaal is the titular kindergarten teacher, who is also a frustrated poet. One day she hears a five-and-a-half-year-old South Asian boy in her class recite a poem. She reads it to her poetry class, who suddenly think she's a brilliant poet. AND SO IT BEGINS. I cannot speak to the original Israeli film, but writer-director Sara Colangelo never overplays the creepiness that ensues, which just makes it THAT MUCH MORE CREEPY. This lady crosses some fucking lines, let me tell you, and what I love about Gyllenhaal's performance is that it's always unclear what her motivation is and whether she herself knows it (I was reminded of Bryan Cranston's work as Walter White). Is she nurturing this boy's talent because she truly believes he's a poetry genius and wants him to succeed? Or is she doing it for the reflected praise, to make herself feel better about her own failures by lifting this boy up? God, you spend this whole movie waiting for her to fucking SNAP because no one APPRECIATES this little boy's TALENT. It's an exquisite exercise in tension, and my stomach was in knots for the last half hour. And then God, what a fucking ending. This movie fucked me up. B+/A-

The Wicker Man: Sergeant Howie comes to this private Scottish island to investigate a missing girl and discovers that goddamn, these people are pagan as FUCK. This is clearly a Template Film for Outsider Comes to Weird Cult-y Town and Gets More Than He Bargained For stories, and boy, it's got outdoor fucking right at the top, the seventies were WILD. Also it's practically a musical?? Robin Hardy and Paul Giovanni know how to make beautiful music that's also quite unnerving. I can't tell if this movie is supposed to be funny at all, but it gets pretty outlandish at times and plays it deathly, blackly straight, which did make it unsettling. Howie investigates and hits a lot of dead ends and then discovers the horrible terrible truth, and even though I kind of knew what was coming with this movie, it still took me by surprise, and the ending still had power, which is saying something. This movie gives no fucks and it just goes for it, and despite all the garish costumes and off-kilter music, it can, at times, capture the feeling of sheer terror. B/B+

The Fits: Anna Rose Holmer thinks I can follow Royalty Hightower's entire character arc just by watching her dance. And...she's not entirely wrong, to my surprise. This movie has very little dialogue and a LOT of dancing, like...a lot of dancing, like, okay, I get it, she is dancing, you don't...oh, they're still flailing their arms about, I see. But it establishes a sympathetic protagonist with a goal—she wants to join this dance troupe—and that gave me an entryway into this film, which has some lovely cinematography with lots of longish takes. There's an intriguing hook in the fact that girls in this dance troupe are having mysterious FITS, but...I guess the fits are a metaphor or something, this is not the kind of movie where it matters why anything is happening. It's more about tone, and, like I said, I wasn't NOT into this movie, and I liked the main character's friendship with another little girl, but I found the ending kind of baffling, while also finding some joy in it. Unless I was supposed to be sad? WHO KNOWS. I don't really get this movie, but I don't hate it like I thought I would. B

Personal Shopper: Kristen Stewart is the titular personal shopper, but she is also a medium who is waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. Instead she finds...some other ghost? And mysterious text messages? I like the way this film deals with grief, contrasting Stewart's obsessive desire to connect with a spirit and offer proof of the afterlife with her brother's girlfriend, who is much better at Moving On. Her actual life kinda sucks, so it's as if she'd like to know there's more to life than a definitive end (but also she has the same heart condition as her brother and so is afraid of her own death at any time). But this film throws in some supernatural elements and some psychological thriller elements and then resolves absolutely nothing. The ending is one where it seems like I should have had that "Yep, I had a journey with this character" feeling, but it just frustrated me. Kristen Stewart is good though; it took me some time to warm up to her, but she has a nervous energy about her that works for her conflict and she has some strong moments where you can see the toll all of this is taking on her. B

Good Time: Robert Pattinson does not have a good time in this movie where he tries to get his mentally challenged brother out of jail. I don't know how I feel about co-director Benny Safdie's portrayal of said brother, and the character's role in the film, both of which felt kind of uncomfortable, but Robert Pattinson is definitely excellent here, bringing a lot of intensity to a character who's trying desperately to unfuck up what he's fucked up, except he keeps fucking up. I dug the electronic score, and the film's got a strong sense of gritty mood and all, but it kind of lost me about halfway in once it introduced a new character I did not like at all and had to spend the rest of the movie with him. It sort of shifted the whole focus, and while Pattinson's goal remained the same, it was harder to track the story in the second half, and by the end I wasn't sure what any of this was really supposed to be about. B

My Summer of Love: Natalie Press is just lying around in the countryside when she encounters Emily Blunt, who rides in on a fucking horse like some fairytale princess. They immediately become friends...and then more; as the men in their lives are terrible, they find solace in each other. Blunt (in her film debut) and Press have incredible chemistry, and Pawel Pawlikowski, as he does in Cold War, has a great sense of how to use music, from Blunt's cello playing and Edith Piaf recordings to the sultry yet ominous Goldfrapp score. There's so much joy and warmth to them, and I laughed out loud a few times. I loved watching their relationship slowly develop, and I was unsure where it was going—especially because it is SO CLEAR something is up with Blunt's character, her confidence in contrast to Press's relative naivety and passivity—but my God, I did not expect that ending and I did not expect it to be so satisfying. B+

Velvet Buzzsaw: One day an art gallery owner's assistant discovers some incredible paintings in the apartment of her recently deceased neighbor, who left explicit instructions to destroy them. Instead she begins to sell them. Then, as art critic Morf Vandewalt (what) puts it, something truly goddamn strange starts going on. Look, if you're not here for KILLER ART, I'm not sure what to tell you. Dan Gilroy has a blast satirizing the art world while occasionally dabbling in genuine art appreciation. The commercialism of art is clearly on his mind, and he is not subtle about the fact that he thinks...it is bad. Did he really need two hours to say that? I don't know, but this movie is pretty fun with an excellent cast (Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo practically reprise their Nightcrawler roles), and the visual effects are deliciously creepy. It doesn't all quite work or make sense, but, come on, KILLER ART. B/B+

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: The Lonely Island made a pop music mockumentary and it flopped at the box office so I assumed it sucked. BUT IT DID NOT SUCK! Within the first minute it features a one-year-old playing drums, so I knew this movie would be my kind of silly. While it never veers into Walk Hard-level absurdity, the story of a pop star struggling with his solo career after leaving a popular boy band—whose chef is played by Justin Timberlake in a wonderful meta joke—hits all the right notes on its quest to skewer pop stardom with implausibly profane singles about gay marriage and Bin Laden. The cast is chockfull of fun cameos, Tim Meadows is of course no stranger to this environment, Sarah Silverman is surprisingly un-Silverman-y and actually plays things pretty straight, and also there are wolves. There's nothing deep here, there's nothing truly monumental, but it's solid, fun entertainment that made me laugh quite a bit. B+

Hot Rod: The Lonely Island made a dumb comedy and it flopped at the box office so I assumed it sucked. AND IT KINDA DOES? It harkens back to my favorite dumb Adam Sandler comedies of yore, but this story of stuntman Andy Samberg trying to raise money for his stepdad's surgery by pulling off a HUGE STUNT is wildly uneven, and it was hard to tell at times whether they were trying to be intentionally bad or whether they were just missing the mark. There isn't a consistent tone or humor style, but the weirdo surreal humor tended to work the best for me when it did hit the mark, like a repetition of "Cool beans" turning into a rap song or an unexpected riot. I found occasional bits to love in this movie, but they weren't enough to push the needle into a definite Like. Mostly I wished that I liked the rest of the movie more because some of the bits are great! B

Next up: oh boy, I can watch Netflix and Hulu and Prime and Hoopla and Kanopy and shit on my FIRE TV, time to make dents in my streaming queueueueueues.
Tags: making the grade, movies

  • Fleabag? More Like T-Bag!

    Fleabag begins with arsefucking, but don't let that put you off! It's not like it begins with pigfucking. Don't look at me like that. Instead, look…

  • Atlanta? More Like Tales from the Hood!

    Donald Glover is certainly having a Cultural Moment, what with Solo and "This Is America" and Atlanta. Troy Barnes sure has come a long way. But…

  • BoJack Horseman? More Like Animal Far!

    Back in the nineties, BoJack Horseman was on a famous TV show. The show? Horsin' Around. The role? Horse. Twenty years later, he's all washed up.…

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