Movies Reviewed, 2020

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Contagion - Really great film that I rewatched because of the coronavirus. Good music, great cast and acting, love Soderbergh's pacing and direction. Just really solid all around. His commercial films are really fun to watch. The indie stuff is a little hit or miss, however. A-.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood - Much hyped, but disappointing. It's a very LA film, but even more than that, it's a very Hollywood insider film. A lot of it reminds me of GTA the video game with a lot of driving around and a lot of time spent on the radio stations to establish the time period. This is probably the film's greatest strength and I think this is one reason it did fairly well during the awards season - the timing and location of the film coincide with the experiences of a lot of the voters. If you're 50-60 and living/working in LA/Hollywood then there's a good chance you'll like this one. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's a pretty narrow film to me.
I really didn't see the performances as all that amazing. I love Margot Robbie, though. The cast was big and diverse. Had the Tarantino touch in that it was a film lovers movie. Overrated. B-.

Outbreak - Oldie but goodie which I wanted to revisit with the coronavirus stuff that's going around. Pretty simple overall, but good stuff. Definitely dated at this point, but a solid little film from the director of Das Boot. B.
Red Pill - Documentary that follows a self-described feminist who looks into the Men's Rights Movement and the backlash to feminism. A couple of these guys are bit fringey, but overall I take the movement seriously at this point. They raise valid points about both feminism as well as the place of men in our society. Major points include the fact that women are sex objects, but men are success objects. Men comprise 93% of workplace deaths, don't live as long, comprise 99% of war deaths, get much worse sentences for the same crimes relative to women, circumcision is brought up, etc.
I think the take away from this should be that we're all humans. We're all individuals. Life is suffering and we all suffer to some extent. We need to learn to get along. All advantages have another side of the coin. The shitty ways women have been treated isn't because of an all powerful patriarchy that all men benefit from - in fact many men suffer as a result of this "patriarchy" because it creates gender roles for them as well.
Perhaps the best point was by a woman who is an MRA who pointed out that feminists are often keen to point out how much words matter, they will also often claim to not be anti-man, and yet the worst force in society (the patriarchy) is named after men.
Perhaps the worst thing I can say about this is that it may have been disingenuous simply because one of the producers is Mike Cernovich - who is a right wing nut of sorts. While the director seems earnest and like she's really a feminist who is grappling with these new ideas...the fact that Cernovich is involved makes me wonder. Nevertheless the ideas presented are still valid and I think need to be addressed in our society one way or another. Currently we are ignoring the fact that men have it bad in any way at all. A perfect example of this was a teacher I once had (who was on Jeopardy and was very bright) who once pointed out that men were the ones who died in all the wars, but would always follow that up with "but then again they start all the wars too!" with an implied "checkmate" after this declaration. I'm sure all the lower class guys dying on the battlefields are happy to march to their death knowing that their penises started the wars so it's no big deal. JFC. B+.

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator - 30 for 30 did a podcast series on this asshole and this documentary is just as good or better. The people who took his shit and put him on a pedestal are wacky, but he's a truly bad person. B.

Behind The Curve - Documentary about the flat earth movement. If you haven't heard about this where have you been? Also, it's a real thing where real people believe that the earth is flat and that science generally isn't doing a good job. I can understand some of the latter since there are things that science gets wrong and there's a general lack of trust in institutions these days, but these are truly the most wacky of conspiracy theorists. Interesting. B.

This Is 40 - Didn't love it the first time I saw it because I think it's a bit of a rangy movie that needs some editing. Now I'm watching it again and I'm 40 and the lack of editing doesn't bother me as much as the reality of the comedy. Ah, getting old. B.
American Heist - cheesy production, writing and acting. Pretty bad all around. Two talented actors at pretty much their worst here. Not sure why I finished it. D-.

Dominican Dream - 30 for 30 documentary about Felipe Lopez the basketball player who was heralded as the next MJ. How many times have they said that, by the way? Tracy McGrady, Lopez, Kobe, Vince Carter, Lebron...probably a bunch of others I'm forgetting or not aware of. Not particularly great. C+.
Cheer Season 1 - From the creator of Last Chance U...another Netflix documentary series that follows a successful JuCo sports team, but this time it's a cheerleading squad instead of football. I'm not cheerleading fan, but this was a great series. Loved the coach who really stands by her athletes. The athletes are coming of age and finding their way in the world and I always like that kind of stuff. Great stuff. Tears were shed. B+.

Fractured - Brad Anderson flick. My dad was big into him after Session 9. I never saw the huge appeal. Spoilers. This one is a pretty straightforward psychological thriller where the protagonist thinks there's a conspiracy to hide his family from him, but it turns out that he just murdered them and suffered a psychological break. Oops. C+.
A Quiet Place - Finally checked this off the list. Little kid gets offed in the opening sequence so that was pretty ballsy. It's also a unique idea (the monsters are attracted to even the slightest noise). I really loved the atmosphere and idea, but the execution really had me scratching my head. Why are these people living in a wide open house where these monsters can hear them taking a dump or whatever? They had a basement area that was more quiet, but shouldn't their entire living situation be inside a highly padded and insulated area? Instead they're making dinner with the doors open and shit. Collect some mattresses and line the walls with them for fuck's sake. Ugh. I love end of the world type stuff, but they need to write this stuff a lot smarter. Part 2 comes out this year. B.
Confession Killer - Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was based on his guy. Not sure if they didn't get the memo about him being a fraud or if they just liked the story and ran with it anyway. Henry Lee Lucas basically lied to a Texas sheriff about his involvement in hundreds of murders and the sheriff bought it. Perhaps because he wanted to be the guy who took down the most prolific murderer of all-time, perhaps because he wanted to help other cops "solve" murders to give the cases closure, or perhaps because he was just gullible. Anyway, it was all exposed when people started realizing that he was admitting to murders committed just a day or two after other murders he admitted to across the country. Even better, he admits to these murders when they can show work and probation records that have him in entirely different locations. So, this guy with an 87 IQ fooled all these cops into thinking he was a monster because that's what they wanted. Can't make this shit up. B+.
If I Had A Million - Finally got around to seeing this one. Features several vignettes (8, I think) of people getting a million bucks from an eccentric benefactor who doesn't want the money going to his shitty family so he gives it to random people instead. One guy is a serial forger so he's unable to cash the check (karma). One guy is on death row so sucks for him. One guy gets a dozen cars and runs people off the road if they are driving poorly. One is a woman who just wants to be left alone to sleep in her own bed without her stockings on (pre-code so they show her getting pretty skimpy). Pretty good idea and apparently it became a TV show later on. 1932. B.

Just Mercy - If you've seen one of these films then you've seen them all. Wrongly accused guy goes to jail and young lawyer gets him out through intelligence and grit. It's a good story, it's a true story, it's got a couple good performances (Jaime Foxx mostly). Longer than it should have been. We need criminal justice reform and the death penalty shouldn't exist. C+.

Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story - Great documentary about Ron Artest. He was a favorite of mine and his story is an interesting one since it's not just the usual athlete story. It touches on the Detroit incident, his upbringing, his mental illness, his time with the Fakers, etc. It's a feel good story to see this guy come out the other side in a much better place than he was for a long time. He was one of my favorites for good reason. B+.

Talented Mr. Ripley - I've been sick so I watched a few movies today. This one has been on the list for a while. Pretty much what I expected. Style-wise it's a very dated film. The look and feel was very mid-90s. Lots of close-ups. Damon was pretty good. C.
Locke - Unique film that is shot entirely in a car with a guy (Locke) driving at night to see the birth of his baby in another city. Only it's not his wife's kid and he's running the largest non-military concrete pour in European history tomorrow and he won't be able to make it. His life is basically falling apart as he loses his job, his wife breaks up with him after he tells her where he's going, etc. It's about obligation and the ghosts of our father and doing what's right despite the consequences. Good film - one of the best of 2013. B+.
Witch - Good style but it's not my style. Appreciate the acting and suspense and the language/writing. But it's a film that is just about weird witchcraft stories from a time when people spent too much time in the dark because candle wax was like a week's salary so they were bound to think up weird shit. C+.

Blackkklansman - Spike Lee Joint that got some Oscar buzz, but shouldn't have. It's like Lee's 8th best movie, and it's not in the top ten for the year by any stretch.
As serious commentary it was more balanced than you might expect considering the source. There's a good deal of nuance when depicting some of the less savory aspects. At the same time he basically shows that most of the KKK members are just stupid hicks. I expected it to take the tack that KKK sentiments are actually a more widespread problem - this is the tack of many on the woke left today. "White supremacism is widespread and pervasive." Instead the bumbling idiots populate the KKK and there's room for reasonable whites outside of it.
Plot-wise there really wasn't all that much to write home about. Not exceptionally interesting or compelling. The "climax" wasn't all that exciting or compelling. Acting was good.
The end was more along the lines of what I was expecting - capitalizing on the mood of the moment with Trump in office and racial tensions inflamed. It was really jarring to bring in Charlottesville after the rest of the movie. It was sad to see the footage, but it wasn't because of anything that Lee did. It was actually a cheap move to insert it to achieve an emotional reaction at the end of his lackluster film. It would be like remaking The Siege and then ending it with the twin towers falling down. It's an okay movie followed up by an intense real life event in order to give more import to the former. Cheap and uninteresting. C+.
Exhibit A - Netflix series that takes on different kinds of evidence used in criminal trials - sniffing dogs, blood splatter, touch DNA, etc. and basically shows the frailty of each. Hopefully courtrooms get the memo and don't rely on any of this. B.

Loudest Voice - Short TV series with Russell Crowe about Roger Ailes of Fox Network fame. Pretty well done and acted. Enjoyable overall. Sticks it to him here and there as the filmmakers clearly don't love the guy. Depicting him (accurately) as an impotent fatass. I didn't shed any tears. I also don't shed many tears for the likes of Gretchen and Megyn who went along with the lies of the propaganda media outlet while it suited their interests. They shouldn't face harassment, of course, but they also aren't the angels that are depicted here and in Bombshell - they were complicit in the worst parts of the Ailes legacy (Fox News). B.

OA Part II - gets interesting with the multiple dimensions stuff, but ultimately didn't really go anywhere. i think i'm just not cut out for these types of sci-fi flicks. i want answers and resolution and they can never deliver. Pi is about as good as it gets when it comes to a protagonist searching for answers about the reality of life and how the world works. B-.

1917 - some of the best war movies, probably forgetting some good ones...paths of glory, full metal jacket, great escape, all quiet on the western front, platoon, saving private ryan, dunkirk, das boot, stalag 17...1917 joins the list.
Really great film from beginning to end. Grabs you right away and you realize pretty early on that you're watching a single shot. There are a few tricks to make it work, but it's mostly the real thing. It's not Russian Ark or even Rope, but this is a more difficult film to shoot than Rope and it's definitely better than Russian Ark. The cinematography is amazing and should win the oscar. Roger Deakins is one of the best of all-time and he kills it here. The look is great, but the camera movement and where it goes is even more impressive. I don't know how they did it.
So, as a technical achievement, this is an amazing film and that's all fine enough. As a piece of artwork it's just as good, or better. The way it grabs you, the way it shows you the horrors of war, the quick bonds that are formed, the kid singing in the middle of the forest (reminiscent of Paths of Glory), the artistry of the tracking shots in the trenches (Paths of Glory again), the tracking shot during the battle (perpendicular to Paths of Glory), the range of human emotion, the cleansing of the river with the falling cherry tree blossoms that leads to a river of dead....just so many great scenes and emotions and artistic decisions. The sniper scene reminded me of Full Metal Jacket. I guess you could say it was derivative if you were really cynical, but I'd say it's more like Reservoir Dogs or Tarantino in general - all these moments that are pulled from other great war films are homages - hip-hop samples done to create a new film. This is its own thing and it's wonderfully done. Best film of the year. A-.

Bombshell - started watching the Loudest Voice on HBO so this was well-timed. Pretty good overall and very watchable. A bit of an odd choice to have the voiceover and have the characters speaking to the camera. However, I thought it was a really good choice to have Theron, as Megyn Kelly, talking off camera during the credits as our first intro to her. She really nails the voice so it allows you to think of her as Kelly even more. Then we see her and it's a little bit of "oh, that's Charlize Theron," but the makeup is really good and her voice has already sold you so the illusion is as complete as it can be. At several points I found myself forgetting that it was Theron - and that's a rarity in film.
Overall, it was the performances that made the film. Theron was oscar-worthy, as were Robbie and Lithgow. Nicole Kidman was okay, but not great. Pretty decent movie overall. B.

Happy Gilmore - still a classic adam sandler/sports movie. possibly the best of the sandler movies and in the running for best sports movies, even though i don't usually think of it (probably because it's golf). A.
Peppermint - pierre morel directed film about a woman who loses her husband and child and then seeks revenge. i love revenge films so this is right up my alley. it's the same thing as death wish and a million other revenge films. it's well done enough to stand on its own. B-.

Spies In Disguise - as far as family movies go this one wasn't too bad. nothing objectionable for the kids and then seemed to like the silly humor. for the parents, there's enough to keep the mind busy so i think i managed to stay awake for this one. C+.