I’m taking a break.
Right now, writing about movies is not my current focus in life and what IS my current focus in life is a bit too urgent to allow share space in my brain for anything else right now. It’s frankly getting to a point where I’m feeling overwhelmed and burnt out about movies, nearly unable to watch any without feeling some obligation to overanalyze and dissect everything I watch even if I’m just trying to watch them for leisure.
No, best to put this down in writing rather than just have it popping up in the back of my mind often while trying to push myself to write one further word without my thoughts fully formed. It is especially heartbreaking to do this NOW because I feel 2018 has been a significantly more rewarding year for movies than its two preceding years, but perhaps that just adds to the necessity of me needing to stop for a bit: just appreciate the movies without trying to intellectualize them into critical rhetoric. I don’t have to turn off my brain or cease communicating with others about movies (and I obviously won’t), I just don’t have to treat it like a chore or an anchor on my ankle.
Here’s what’s up: I will be finishing the last two movies in the Takahata Isao remembrance and I will be writing about Lu Over the Wall because I got the OTHER Yuasa Masaaki movie of the year out of the way (and also wrote about his Netflix show, Devilman Crybaby, on the Film Experience). I will be finishing those up at my own pace, ideally by the end of the month.
After that… I’m taking it easy for a few months. I may pop in every now and then on The Film Experience and people can obviously keep track of me via letterboxd. Before the year is over, I’ll see what to figure out regarding writing. Maybe I’ll just take things one at a time, like I should have. Maybe I’ll just write about the movies I feel like. Maybe my life will be cleaned up enough to stick to the usual methods of relevance (Oscar nominees, Box Office Winners, etc.) with a lot more punctuality.
In the end…
Anyway, before I step out, it would be rude (and anyway stick in my throat) if I did not leave you all with a plethora of capsule reviews of the multitudes of 2018 releases I have seen over the past 8 months that I have not gotten around to writing for one reason or another.
The 15:17 to Paris (dir. Clint Eastwood, USA)
Absolutely Eastwood’s career-worst. Thinks the premise of a guy actively waiting for the opportunity to be a hero is actually compelling, forgets that it means nothing’s gonna happen for 75 minutes. Honestly, the non-actors give the “best” performances in the movie.
Acrimony (dir. Tyler Perry, USA)
Possibly Tyler Perry’s career worst. Totally confused on its stance with the central conflict between Melinda and Robert.
American Animals (dir. Bart Layton, UK/USA)
Interesting attempt at docudrama. I don’t think it fails, but I don’t think it’s a huge success. Distressing heist sequences to combat the slick fantasies these characters indulge in and knock the “glamor” out of this violent assault.
Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland, UK/USA)
I’m still fucked up, give a lot of minutes.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (dir. Peyton Reed, USA)
I liked it more than Avengers: Infinity War, which means it’s just ok.
Bao (dir. Domee Shi, USA)
Very easy to go “WHAT THE FUCK” at THAT moment, but that has already taken over the conversation and neglected how otherwise warm and pleasantly squishy this short film was.
Book Club (dir. Bill Holderman, USA)
I am obviously an old woman in loving this movie.
Breaking In (dir. John McTeigue, USA)
Gabrielle Union turning into her own home invader is a whole lot of fun to witness.
The Cloverfield Paradox (dir. Julius Onah, USA)
I’m probably the lucky one for deciding to go to sleep after the Super Bowl and go to work before bothering watching this.
The Commuter (dir. Jaume Collet-Serra, France/UK/USA)
After years of trying to recruit Liam Neeson’s help in becoming a trashy French Hitchcock, Collet-Serra has come the closest (and still pretty damn far) with this shaggy Lady Vanishes and Strangers on a Train mash-up. I regret that I made it sound smarter than it is (and it thinks it’s that smart with shallow observations on the economy snuck into it), but it has a strong enough handle on tension to keep itself from being boring even during its extended climax (where it REALLY rides on The Lady Vanishes as a basis). Maybe I just never get bored of Angry Liam Neeson.
Condorito: La Película (dir. Alex Orrelle & Eduardo Schuldt, Chile/Peru)
I find it tough to believe that this chauvinistic source material was for children.
Crazy Rich Asians (dir. Jon M. Chu, USA)
Uninterested in the actual social or personal ramifications of the characters’ wealth, but that’s so we’re less conflicted about adoring the total lifestyle and outfit porn of all its characters, buoyed by the inherent charm of every single personality. And it’s not shallow either: in lieu of the economical lens, it goes into the generational gap.
The Death of Stalin (dir. Armando Iannucci, UK/France/Belgium)
It’s weird to say In the Loop is the superior movie because The Death of Stalin has much more going on in its form and attempts to deliver weird framing, faded costuming, and caustic atmosphere in its sound. But… it’s just that In the Loop is much funnier than this very hilarious film.
Early Man (dir. Nick Park, UK)
Not reinventing the wheel, but that’s because that wheel rolls smoothly and if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.
Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham, USA)
Absolutely hurt to watch in a good way.
The Equalizer 2 (dir. Antoine Fuqua, USA)
Just decides to abandon the mysterious lack of identity of its lead to instead deepen the personality of Washington’s McCall. That’s the one major difference and depending on your attitude on that, it will color your attitude on the movie. Also this movie’s real-life Hurricane FPS is not as fun to watch as the first movie’s Home Depot slasher movie.
Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? (dir. Shinbō Akiyuki & Takeuchi Nobuyuki, Japan)
Wish I knew in advance anything about this movie like how gross it is about women or how it recycles its own animation over and over or how godawful it is about J-Pop or how inconsistent its time travel rules are. Has a few minutes of great looking animated lighting, otherwise trash.
The First Purge (dir. Gerard McMurray, USA)
Good thing that finally changing the director somehow did not make these better at staging or cutting setpieces. I would hate for it to do right by Y’lan Noel’s screen presence as an action star. Real glad this franchise remains having no personality beyond being another John Carpenter rip-off with shallow political observations.
First Reformed (dir. Paul Schrader, USA)
Does not really disminish my attitudes on Paul Schrader being an asshole who makes movies for assholes (especially that ending – which I loved but I know I’m an asshole), but it feels significantly sincere in its moral anguishes, its incorporation of impersonal organization and frustrating administration into religious matters, and its exploration of distress in faith. I honestly think these elements make it easy to ignore its incredibly transparent Bergman and Bresson influences and see it as Schrader’s utilizing of old European religious film vocabulary to express his own fears of the modern world’s trajectory. Accomplishes certain Taxi Driver character interiority better than Taxi Driver, fight me.
Forever My Girl (dir. Bethany Ashton Wolf, USA)
This is a goddamn country music version of Bojack Horseman.
Game Night (dir. John Francis Daley, USA)
A David Fincher film that I liked more than most of David Fincher’s movies!
Game Over, Man! (dir. Kyle Newacheck, USA)
God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness (dir. Michael Mason, USA)
The least objectionable of the trilogy (its final observations taking more of the responsibility onto the church rather than on others) but also the silliest in its early attempts at darkness. I could have waited until streaming or some shit.
The Green Fog (dir. Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, & Galen Johnson, USA)
My favorite movie of the year yet. Utilizes the familiarity of Vertigo to function both as direct ode to San Francisco (as was commissioned), but also an examination of dialogue’s presence in cinematic storytelling, what associations an audience’s brain will make, and relentlessly hilarious montage gags.
Gringo (dir. Nash Edgerton, USA)
I don’t know what either the two writers or the three editors were smoking. It’s a complete structural mess that could easily be fixed by abandoning the attempted mosaic narrative (including the worst one carried by an unimpressive Joel Edgerton) and just focus on the one sympathetic presence in the whole film, David Oyelowo. That would shave a lot of Theron’s great performance, but this movie desperately needs to be streamlined. Unfortunately, fixing that still doesn’t fix how totally unfunny the whole movie is or how boring it looks.
Hearts Beat Loud (dir. Brett Haley, USA)
Slightly disappointed its focuses are leaned more on Offerman than on Clemons, but not as disappointed because Offerman is wonderful and the two perspectives of Frank and Sam make for compelling narratives (with the movie being entirely on Sam’s side). Also, totally dig the title song and the sequence of its creation.
Hereditary (dir. Ari Aster, USA)
Absolutely does not care for the well-being of its characters but the performances themselves snatch that sympathy hard enough to so that Aster can be totally cruel without any inhibitions. Terrible ending monologue that tells us what we already know. One of the worst theater audiences I’ve been with.
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (dir. Genndy Tartakovsky, USA)
OK, even though these movies have finally become great to look at, with a nice visual foil in the stout Van Helsing versus the lanky Dracula, Tartakovsky has taken enough bullets for Sony Animation. They better let him make what he wants now. Please.
Isle of Dogs (dir. Wes Anderson, USA/Germany)
Wonderful design and lateral framing, Bryan Cranston makes a terrific rugged voice, Greta Gerwig’s character is the worst, pretty gross about Orientalism. I like it, but I’m very labored about it.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (dir. J.A. Bayona, USA)
No less stupid than The Lost World: Jurassic Park but completely sheds the self-serious environmentalist sobriety of that one, so it’s also significantly more fun than any Jurassic Park film since the first. Helps that Bayona gets to take the whole third act through his own haunted house aesthetic.
Lean on Pete (dir. Andrew Haigh, UK)
Could have easily became misery porn but Charlie Plummer sees it the whole way through.
Life of the Party (dir. Ben Falcone, USA)
My Mother’s Day present to my Melissa McCarthy-fan mom and I so wish my best friend was Maya Rudolph’s character.
Love, Simon (dir. Greg Berlanti, USA)
The type of movie where I’m so glad it exists for the community it matters for but I was so very uninterested in otherwise, other than hating Logan Miller’s character and wishing violent death on that psycho.
Madeline’s Madeline (dir. Josephine Decker, USA)
A frustrating movie that comes with certain elements of the territory: the ambling improvisational nature of the story and its contradictory goals of criticizing art for exploiting severe issues like mental illness while also dedicating itself to entering the headspace of Madeline herself. And yet it accomplishes everything in swift enough time to give it flying colors. Helena Howard possibly gives the best performance of the year, an intense ticking timebomb of chameleon instincts.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower (dir. Yonebayashi Hiromasa, Japan)
Studio Ponoc’s conservatism to its predecessor Ghibli’s house style is comforting and wonderful, not losing an ounce of its impressiveness when it opens with a high energy setpiece like the explosive escape and has a whole lotta liquid design moving around. And that anti-Chosen One narrative endears me even further to it.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (dir. Christopher McQuarrie, USA)
The more I watched this film (which has been three times, for the record), the more evident it is that it really wants to have fun with the “dark and gritty” expectations of its premise and happily reject them, even if it feels uncomfortably tied to this star factor of Tom Cruise being presented as this caring and uncompromising moral paragon. Even then, WHO CARES? This is a movie for us to watch Tom Cruise try to kill himself in exhilarating ways and if it is not stylistically interesting, the scale of the setpieces and ambitious insanity of their presentation is all one needs to take this all in.
Mute (dir. Duncan Jones, UK/Germany)
OK, so I was expecting the best Blade Runner sequel of the decade and instead we got the worst Ghost in the Shell remake of the decade.
Ocean’s 8 (dir. Gary Ross, USA)
Came for the cast, most of the cast delivered. Gary Ross puts on his best Soderbergh imitation, which is not much but enough.
Paddington 2 (dir. Paul King, France/UK)
As nice and kind as its predecessor, but maaaaaaaaan, I just can’t join the crowd in thinking Hugh Grant’s funny performance outdoes Nicole Kidman’s energetic macabre.
Peter Rabbit (dir. Will Gluck, USA/Australia)
Fuck that rabbit, I hope he dies.
Proud Mary (dir. Babak Najafi, USA)
It is honestly irresponsible that this movie got a big damn release. Did people get paid for post-production here? It looks like a student film.
Red Sparrow (dir. Francis Lawrence, USA)
Can’t figure out if this or mother! is the worse movie about gender, but at least this one is funny to laugh at with its accents and Charlotte Rampling being a cold-seduction-minded Mother Superior.
The River (dir. Chloe Zhao, USA)
It feels absolutely mean to acknowledge that the acting is what makes this movie feel unpleasant to me, because it’s just people performing their own lives but that’s frankly what it is. Feels like the rugged beauty of its landscape photography overpowers any attempts to critique how the environment builds fatalistic masculinity.
Samson (dir. Bruce Macdonald, USA/South Africa)
So PureFlix’s attempt at pulling out all the budget stops results in just a Hallmark-caliber TV movie. Even the best actors in the movie – Rutger Hauer and Rutger Hauer – are sleepwalking, so y’know something something “hard to stay awake during church”.
Searching (dir. Aneesh Chagantry, USA)
I feel like this movie exists specifically to make me eat my words about “cheating” an aesthetical perspective because your movie is not good. Searching is astonishingly good and all the shortcuts it takes with close-ups and non-diagetic music just turn it into compelling tragedy one second and thriller the next. Helps when it’s guided by John Cho’s best performance to date, distressed and lost as we piece together who his daughter is with him.
Show Dogs (dir. Raja Gosnell, USA)
Ghastly in every way, I’m glad these are mostly computer-generated dogs because I would hate to see their limbs twisted in this uncanny anatomy.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado (dir. Stefano Sollima, USA)
Does the exact opposite of all things that made the first Sicario compelling nihilism, so no fucking surprise when this ends up just feeling like an episode of your favorite Drug War procedural.
The Strangers: Prey at Night (dir. Johannes Roberts, USA)
Does the exact opposite of all the things that made the first Strangers terrifying, so no fucking surprise when this movie is the total opposite of scary. But it IS good looking – even beyond the famous pool sequence. Feels like it wants to pass for an 80s film but didn’t have the budget or conviction to actually be period.
SuperFly (dir. Director X, USA)
The shift is time and location actually does so much to define the film’s personality and drive its approach to the Game. Loses much of that poignance and moral observation in the latter half where it wants Priest to whup everybody’s ass, satisfying as it is to watch everything click together.
Thoroughbreds (dir. Cory Finlay, USA)
Well, this is a cold movie that doesn’t know what to do with all the coldness Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke provide. Leaves its momentum frozen in its tracks. ‘Cause it’s so cold.
Tomb Raider (dir. Roar Uthaug, UK/USA)
Less confusing than Assassin’s Creed, significantly more boring. So I’m not sure who’s losing this race for a video game adaptation universe, Square Enix or Ubisoft, but the concept that the Fassbender/Vikander household are going to ruin video game movies for another decade is the only aspect of these films that is thrilling to me.
Uncle Drew (dir. Charles Stone III, USA)
Totally artless in its transparent product placement despite insisting with bleeding sincerity on the heart of the sport of basketball. But it’s still brisk and fun enough with its murderer’s row of one-word personalities given silly make-up, where Kyrie Irving is most experience (and thereby best) to give a broad physical and vocal performance.
Unsane (dir. Steven Soderbergh, USA)
I am very unhappy to learn that Soderbergh’s next movie will be IPhone-shot again but at least he upgraded to Tarell Alvin McCraney rather than the fucking writer of The Spy Next Door.
Upgrade (dir. Leigh Whannell, Australia/USA)
No less stupid than The Commuter and Fallen Kingdom but, unlike those films, Leigh Whannell abandons the actual hook of the premise way too eagerly to try to deliver his overcomplicated idea of a compelling mystery and even abandons the humor between Grey and STEM. The subsequent twists just give me rollercoaster nausea instead. Still, the few fight scenes are incredibly amusing, Logan Marshall-Green is very game in the physical demands of his role, and I dig the future ghetto aesthetic in the middle of the film (despite the rest of its production design being wildly inconsistent).
Winchester (dir. Michael & Peter Spierig, Australia/USA)
Literally would be willing to forgive ANYTHING if it was able to dedicate every inch of itself to the confusing geometry of its setting and making us feel totally lost all over it. It does not do this and what it does do is boring.
A Wrinkle in Time (dir. Ava DuVernay, USA)
Think its deficit is a little bit overblown but I’m not admiring of its ambition enough to pretend I like the movie.
You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay, UK/France)
Ramsay’s most masculine and distressing movie to date, dedicating itself to sounds on the edges to disorient us from disturbing memories and images. Also uses framing and shot lengths to apply its title strictly on Joaquin Phoenix’s burly frame as it simply exits our view. All this power and yet it’s last on my Ramsay ranking, that’s how great she is.
Zama (dir. Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)
Kafka-esque spiral around the title character’s imprisonment in the bureaucracy of European imperialism that never seems to bottom out on hilarious absurdity, especially in its uncentered third act that whips us around temporally before we can even realize what happened. A masterpiece of the year for certain.
See y’all around.