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Nine months later I've got nine (fairly) recent slices for ya. 

 

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Avengers Infinity War 
A- 
It’s Thanos’ movie, and one of the few superhero films ever where the villain is the protagonist. It's been out for two months now, so if you haven't seen it or heard about "OMG dat ending!!!11!" then I don't know what to tell ya. I saw it twice in IMAX and loved it for all it accomplished and attempted to accomplish. Excelsior! 

 

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Deadpool 2 
B+
The same, meta 4th wall breaking jokes run a little thin, and making Deadpool want to be a dad was kinda off-putting—it was almost trying too hard to be a "real" movie. But it was still action packed and funny as hell. Can't be mad at that!

 

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Rampage
C-
I never played the 1980s(?) video game, but I do love a good, dumb action movie with the Rock. Unfortunately this was just dumb and not very good at all.

 

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Solo: A Star Wars Story 
B
As an avid Star Wars fan I went in to this fully expecting a raging dumpster fire. However, what I got was a mediocre sci-fi action film with a few bonafide gems thrown in named Chewie & Lando. Worth seeing on a big screen with lowered expectations.

 

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Action Point
D+
I was expecting a Jackass film mixed with a raunchy 70s style comedy in the vain of National Lampoon or Meatballs, but it was not even close to either of those films in quality. I also thought way more of the OG Jackass crew would be in the film, but it was just Knoxville & Pontius. And pretty much all the real "stunts" they did were in the trailer. 

 

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Upgrade
B
This is not new territory in sci-fi, but it managed to feel original—like a great episode of Black Mirror. The cast was completely unknown to me and they all did an adequate job, but the direction is what reall saves this tightly paced little film about artificial intelligence and revenge.

 

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Oceans 8
C
Disappointingly unclever, slow, and unfunny. It has a meaner spirit to it that was not in the first film, which this is desperately trying to clone. The cast was amazing, so if a better director were to come on board with a better script, I’d definitely be down to see a sequel as I’m a sucker for a good heist film. (Watch Logan Lucky if you want a recent example of what a good heist film is, not Ocean's 8.)

 

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TAG
B
A great cast with a seemingly weak premise yet it managed to be both heartfelt and funny if not peppered with some really weird character twists.

 

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Hereditary
C
The hype train on this film has left the station, but I was not aboard. Toni Colette’s performance is great, and she has two scenes in particular that really shine in a disturbing way. However, Gabriel Byrne is utterly wasted. The pacing is glacial for the entire first two acts, and the third act (keeping it vague to avoid spoilers) just all kind of comes at you at once. It needed more build up and better pacing for me.

 

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Incredibles 2
A-
Jack Jack saves this movie. I was really feeling like this was a grade of B or B+ tops until I really sat and thought about Jack Jack—every sequence he was in was pure gold. The action and pacing is nowhere up to par with the original, and the villain’s motives are also a bit too similar to Syndrome from the original. However, the aesthetic is still on point, there’s more Frozone, and, of course, Jack Jack. Next time though, Pixar needs to utilize their famous story editing method to clean up Brad Bird’s clunky plot and problematic script.

 

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Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom
C
Universal is mimicking what Disney is doing with Star Wars--soft reboots of a beloved franchise. This had the same basic plot as Jurassic Park 2, but it is more on par in quality with JP3. This movie also has criminally less Goldblum than JP2. I mean, the trailer makes it look like Ian Malcolm is gonna feature heavily in the film and Goldblum did a lot of press, so my expectations were dashed when he had essentially a cameo. Add thirty seconds on to the trailer and you've got your sum total of Goldblum in JW2.  

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Yes, I know Baytor already does this in a much more detailed manner. Yes, I know I'm a n00b here at Hondo's and I'm adding to the clutter. Yes, I know there's another thread for this sort of thing. Bu

Taken B+   The most succinct way to describe this Luc Besson scripted revenge flick starring Liam Neeson is to picture what would happen if Jason Bourne retired and had his daughter kidnapped in Pa

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Ant-Man & The Wasp
B+
It suffers from a one note plot and some not so menacing antagonists, but it was damn fun. The humor wasn’t as adult as Thor Ragnarok—it felt a little safer. It felt more like a family movie than your typical MCU film.

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A Quiet Place
A-
Great concept and it was executed extremely well by first time director John Krasnski. The tension and suspense in this film is outstanding and helped along by great performances by the four main characters, especially Emily Blunt.

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Isle of Dogs
B+
So fucking weird, but in a good way. Maybe the best thing Bryan Cranston’s done since Breaking Bad. I don’t think you could really call this a “kid’” movie in the way you would a Pixar or even Ghibli film. Still, it was heartwarming and filled with Anderson’s signature awkward humor.

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Blockers
C+
I was all set to avoid this in the theaters, but three separate people absolutely raved about how funny this was. So I took a chance and was treated to exactly what I expected: mediocrity. 

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Sicario: Day of the Soldado
C
This one was surprisingly boring and frustrating. Brolin and Del Toro have some good moment but there’s nothing great here. Not even a great showpiece action sequence like the border crossing in the first film. 

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Equalizer 2
B-
Denzel Washington is a damn fine actor that carries a film directed in an overly languid and rather mediocre style. It’s kind of like Taken but with a tad less action.

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Sorry To Bother You
B-
It tries to straddle the line between comedy and social allegory, but it really flounders in the third act and especially in the ending. It’s got some great performances and if you’re in the mood for some social commentary in a quirky package then you should dig this enough.

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Three Identical Strangers
B+
Documentary about three adopted brothers separated at birth. A very compelling story with some surprising twists, but it leaves several important questions unaddressed and unanswered.

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I'd give sicario 2 an A, it doesn't have the in your face action but makes up for it with the struggle and tension between characters.  There is a bit of political driver for the plot that is new as well, and although it didn't make a whole lot of sense (based on what the team could do and did do) it does create the environment to explore characters more and bring about an unforgettable moment.

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2 hours ago, spiffytee said:

I'd give sicario 2 an A, it doesn't have the in your face action but makes up for it with the struggle and tension between characters.  There is a bit of political driver for the plot that is new as well, and although it didn't make a whole lot of sense (based on what the team could do and did do) it does create the environment to explore characters more and bring about an unforgettable moment.

Yup. You definitely found a lot more to like in the film than I did, Spiffy. I found the plot extremely frustrating in that it went nowhere. Maybe that's the commentary the film is trying to make about the war on drugs, but damn, at least give me an interesting story to wrap that bit of commentary in, ya know?

 

I need to probably watch NARCOS on Netflix for that. 

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You'll really like NARCOS.  I enjoyed that a lot.  People reviewed season 3 the best, but I like how 1-2 played out, 2 was kinda slow to start, but for S2-3 the finales are hard to beat.

 

I'll agree with it not making any headway anywhere.  The takeaway for me was that meddling with things ends up with a lot of innocent people in danger and certain situations will make characters change "this time it's different"

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  • 2 months later...

Here are a bunch of films I saw this year based around real people, places, and events--some have more fiction to them than others.

 

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Bohemian Rhapsody

A-

The script is a solid “B” at best, however, the music is “A+” throughout. At first I had trouble buying Rami Malik as Queen’s legendary frontman, but in the last 15 minutes of the film I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel like I was watching Freddie Mercury at his apex. The film has great performances in supporting roles, a decent character arc for Mercury as the protagonist, and some solid social commentary without being preachy. All in all, this film is fun, emotional, and worthy of any Queen fan’s theater dollars.

 

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First Man

A-

Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong as a quiet, reserved, yet deeply passionate man. Chazelle treats the space program as art, iconic—but the film feels more like poetry than propaganda; it revels in the beauty and jaw dropping wonder that is sending a human being to walk upon the face of the moon. And though the film is fiction, it is not a fantasy. Neil Armstrong put his bootprint upon the lunar surface. That reality is beautifully captured in this film for us all to experience

 

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I, Tonya

B

The main cast gives great performances, especially Margot Robbie and Sebastian "Is That Bucky!?!" Stan. It was trying to be a Cohen Bros film by looking at the darker aspects of humanity through the lens of the absurdness of that type of behavior, but the majority of laughs never really landed with the audience.

 

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The Post

A-

Leave it to Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and Steven Spielberg to make the story of publishing a single issue of a newspaper suspenseful and riveting. Of course the film is more than that—it’s a poignant commentary on the press, it’s place in democracy, and it’s relationship with the government, especially the judicial branch.

 

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Greatest Showman

B

About what you’d expect from a modern Hollywood musical. The songs were quite good, but the plot and characters were rather archetypal and without much depth.

 

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Glass Castle

C+

An accounting of some of the worst parenting possible that tries to make you sympathize with the terrible parents in the last fifteen minutes. It’s got a great performance by Woody Harrelson, and the kid actors are pretty good, too. But that last act is just so much nope. Truly WTF?

 

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All The Money In The World

B-

Michelle Williams and the kidnapper Chinquinta’s (sp?) performances save this rather drab, if not one sided, look into the life of the richest man who ever lived, J. Paul Getty, and how his obsession with money (winning) nearly cost his grandson his life.

 

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Darkest Hour

A-

The direction and cinematography are rather mediocre, but Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill and that of his supporting cast propel this film to emotionally gripping heights. It’s scary to recall just how close Hitler was to winning Europe from fear alone and how courageous Churchill was to not capitulate the British Empire before the first bomb had been dropped on their island.

 

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Professor Marston & the Wonder Women

C+

 This is a disappointingly flat biopic about people who lived rather colorful lives—said people being a former college professor who created the lie detector test & Wonder Woman, his wife (a fellow professor), and their, um, “teaching assistant.”

 

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A Futile & Stupid Gesture

B+

This Netflix comedy about the co-founder of National Lampoon, Doug Kenney, is an embarrassment of riches—the cast, script, direction. It’s just an utterly engaging and enjoyable comedy tinged with drama (more than a tinge in the third act).

 

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Molly’s Game

B+

Great character piece written and directed by Aaron Sorkin based on the memoir of Molly Bloom. It takes over two hours to get to a denouement that could’ve been reached satisfactorily in about 20 minutes less. If you know anything about Sorkin then you know whey he is so infatuated with Bloom and her family of genius pro-athletes run by a flawed, stern patriarch.

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Here are a bunch of documentaries I’ve seen this year. Almost all can be found on Netflix, Hulu, or HBO.

 

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They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead

A

A Netlix documentary about the last film Orson Welles tried to make, which spanned over 15 years until his death in 1985. However, in telling the story of Welles’ attempt to make this film you also get the story of the man and his overall body of work. The filmmaker uses a ot of Welles style and footage from other films to add drama and, mostly, whimsy to this tale.

 

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RBG

A-

It’s a fascinating life, that of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bador Ginsberg, aka Notorious RBG. The section on her confirmation hearing to the supreme court is a stark and unintended contrast to the confirmation hearings of Justice Kavanaugh in 2018. My main complaint with this documentary is the filmmakers could’ve spent a bit more time on her historic career as a lawyer, but it’s a minor complaint. This really is a film about the complete woman, RBG, and not just her time as a member of the SCOTUSA.

 

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Andre The Giant

B+

This HBO documentary turns into more of a WWF/WWE doc about half-way through, and it’s not as complete a look at the man himself—more the persona. However, as a kid I was a huge fan of Andre and it’s great to see a film about him so lovingly done.

 

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Conor McGregor: Notorious

B+

This Netflix documentary mostly covers McGregor’s preparation for the UFC featherweight title bout with Jose Aldo and his two fights with Nate Diaz for the Lightweight belt. This dropped early in the year before all the post-Mayweather drama and McGregor’s recent UFC loss to Khabib happened. I’d be interested to see if a “vol.2” is in the works by the same documentarians.

 

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Lego House: Home of the Brick

A-

Short Netflix documentary on the building of the LEGO House in Billund, Denmark. I already knew quite a bit about the history of the company from their own animated doc on YouTube and the Netflix series The Toys That Made Us, so I didn’t mind the minimal info about the history of the company. Besides, as the title states, this is more about the building of the actual house than an overview of the company in general.

 

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Filmworker

B+

Great documentary on Leon Vitali, the former actor who became legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s right hand man for the last 30 years of Kubrick’s life. The film becomes a bit repetitive in focusing on Leon’s work for Kubrick and leaves out a good chunk of info on the man himself. But this is still a deeply engrossing look into the filmmaking process—especially post production and Kubrick’s infamous demand for detailed perfection.

 

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Diana, Our Mother: Her Life & Legacy [HBO Doc]

B

Diana’s two sons along with her brother and friends give interviews about Lady Di on the 20th anniversary of her death. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my love of the show The Crown I wouldn’t be interested in this at all. So I found her life much more intriguing now than I have for the past 20+ years. Amazing what a good writer and some great actors can get you interested in.

 

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Walt: The Man Behind the Myth

A

At less than 90 minutes, this documentary offers an entertaining and fairly comprehensive look at Walter E. Disney, perhaps the most influential man in modern entertainment. My only gripe is I could’ve easily done with another half hour or so—especially covering the early days and his relationship with his animators.

 

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Making Fun: The Story of Funko Toys

B+

Netflix doc on the history of Funko toys. A bit unevenly paced and meandering, but still an interesting look into the unique history of the company as well as “funatics” and celebrity collectors.

 

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Aquaman
B+
The action in this film is engaging while the CGI underwater scenes are stunning. However, the bits where the two leads, Jason Mamoa and Amber Heard, are together are mediocre at best. And their on-screen chemistry is nonexistent. Overall, this is a flawed and bloated film, but comparatively speaking it’s a win for the DCEU and worthy of seeing on the big screen if you’re a fan of the genre.

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Bumblebee
B
It's got G1 inspired Transformer designs, Autobot v Decepticon battle action on Cybertron, and muhfuh triple changers! All of those are reasons for any Transformers fan to see it on a big screen. However, be prepared to be actively bored and confused by some perplexing script & editing decisions for the remainder of the film. 

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse [3D]
A
Wow. This is an amazing film from start to finish. It’s got heart, humor, action, and a hero’s journey that resonates on a core, collectively human level. I love 3D films, and this one utilizes the technology in a superior fashion to most others. However, some may not appreciate the varying animation styles on screen and how this film is shot at 12 frames per second instead of the usual 24 frames, which gives it a somewhat clunky feel to the movement. Personally, I found the animation to be spectacular, and I look forward to seeing this again on the big screen.

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Ralph Breaks the Internet (Wreck-It Ralph 2)
B
This takes on a complicated topic regarding being insecure and overly clingy in friendships, which is ambitious for a kids’ film. It also does a great job of visualizing the “world” of the Web in the same way it did for video games in the original film. However, it’s much too concerned with what’s “trending” and as such leans too heavily on popular trends/phrases that’ve already gone the way of the dodo.

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Mary Poppins Returns
D
Maybe you’ll find this latest Disney Studio dig into the pit of nostalgia more enjoyable than I did, but maybe you also like getting punched in the face. No judgment. I wanted to leave the theater 15 minutes in to this film, but I love the original so much that I forced myself to stay in hopes of the film redeeming itself. No redemption was to be found—only cringing and anger over how so many mistakes were made in this remake/soft-reboot poorly disguised as a sequel.  

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Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald [3D]
B-
 The pacing and structure of the film is a mess, but it’s pretty to look at. The plot was much too convoluted and uneven. It felt like a truncated version of a Rowling novel where the B-story became the A-story, the main characters were given short shrift, and the ending is a non-ending pseudo cliffhanger. Meh.

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Widows
B-
This film has an outstanding cast, decent script, and abysmally languid pacing. For a heist film it also unfortunately had very little suspense. The reviews for this one definitely over-hyped it, and that ending scene was anticlimactic, to put it mildly.

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A Star Is Born (2018)
A-
A really barebones but emotional love story between two flawed people and their passion for making music. Bradley Cooper does a great job in directing and performing as does Lady Gaga and Sam Elliot in an Oscar(bait) worthy performance.

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Sisters Brothers [Hulu]
B+
This languidly paced, and oddly emotional and comedic film is what you get when a French director adapts a Canadian writer’s novel about two bounty hunters during the American Gold Rush. Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Riz Ahmed all give solid performances, but John C. Reily truly shines here in one of his best roles yet. 

 

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Mid 90s [Amazon Prime]
B+
It’s an emotional and nostalgia fueled film for me because I was the same age as the protagonist at the same time the film is set, hence why I bumped it up from  B to a B+. The film has a really great young cast who deliver great performances. However, the film sadly falls apart in the third act because our very charismatic and destructive protagonist does not really gain any true insight on his own. It’s told to him by the story’s most moral and kind character—Ray. Mid 90s is a coming of age story where the protagonist does not really come of age, so the ending is unfortunately hollow. 

 

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Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot [Amazon Prime]
B+
This film based on the life of alcoholic, paraplegic cartoonist John Callahan is emotional, vulgar, and hilarious. Just the type of film the man himself deserves. It’s a bit saccharine in places, but Joaquin Phoenix delivers yet another outstanding performance.

 

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Brawl in Cellblock 99 [Amazon Prime]
B
There were a few plot points and character decisions I found perplexing, but overall it is a film as advertised—a hyper violent revenge flick shot in a 1970s B-movie style. Vince Vaughn’s “Southern” accent doesn’t do anyone any favors either, but he is scarily believable as a one man band of ass kicking, death-dealing destruction.

 

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Watership Down (2018 Netflix)
A-
This four hour animated miniseries based on the novel has excellent voice acting, but the animation has some problems. The rabbits look pretty good, but the other animals come off as budget level CGI, and it took me out of the story more than once.

 

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Bill Murray Stories [Netflix]
A-
If I didn’t absolutely love Bill Murray then this would be a “B+” doc at best with its guy in a supremely creepy Bill Murray mask “reenacting” certain scenes and the director’s mediocre narration. However, I do love Bill Murray, so hearing these stories, seeing some of the grainy phone footage, and the few interviews with people that participated in the occurrences was  an hour well spent.

 

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Paterno [HBO]
B+
This is a cleverly biased film that almost appears as if it is giving an unbiased view of college football coaching legend Joe Paterno and his involvement/neglect about child sex abuse scandal involving one of his coaches, Jerry Sandusky. The real story here is not Paterno’s myopic view on winning football games, but it’s how people (not just those in power, but people in general) can infuriatingly ignore horrible facts because they conflict with what they want the world to be. It’s really troubling considering the modern political climate.

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Joker
A-

Firstly, I went in to this with really low expectations. The trailer did not impress me. I felt like it revealed too much of the plot (which it did) and that plot seemed very derivative (which it was). And the one review I read prior to seeing the film took a giant shit all over it. Secondly, fuck was I surprised by how much I liked this film! 

The Good: Cast. Characters. Cinematography. Soundtrack. Pacing. The origin of a supervillain.

The cast is outstanding. Phoenix takes a roll that has had at least two other actors perform it with the word "iconic" attached to it yet his is still fresh, engaging, and totally his own. Is he looking about 10-15 years too old to fit into the traditional Batman/Joker dynamic? Yeah. Is it a big deal? Not really.  Fleck Joker is not Killing Joke Joker. He doesn't just have "one bad day" to push him over the edge. Fleck's journey over the edge is the film. It's not a bad day that creates Fleck's Joker but literally a lifetime of them.



 

The supporting cast was also great. They all are memorable in their roles but not distracting from the main attraction. Even DeNiro just kinda fits in to the aesthetic of the whole film. The only face that really stands out is Fleck/Joker's gorgeous neighbor, Zazie Beetz, but that is even calculated as it's a clue to the "delusion twist" later in the third act. 

 

Part of the allure of the Joker as a character is that he represents the "unknown." He's unpredictable. His motives seemingly random. Chaos personified. The perfect unbalanced yin to Batman's balanced, methodical, and calculated yang. Nolan & company exploited this aspect of the Batman/Joker dynamic brilliantly in The Dark Knight. However, like Burton's 1989 Batman, this film gives laughing boy a definitive origin. Mostly. It's still left a bit open as to his parentage--is he really Thomas Wayne & Penny Fleck's love child? Thomas certainly comes off as enough of a dick in this film to leave that doubt. And the inscription on the back of that photo of a young Penny was from "T.S." But the adoption papers are somehow in her mental health file at Arkham? Okay. But the evidence that Penny was/is a cook is also pretty strong. But despite the mystery of Fleck Joker's lineage, this film chronicles the mental breakdown of one man into a supervillain pretty clearly. Unlike Nicholson's Joker, who was motivated by revenge and power, Fleck's Joker is much more layered; he's a crossroads of pain and insanity meeting at rage junction.

I love the way this film was shot and scored. We're all the heroes of our own stories and Fleck's Joker is no different. The cinematography reflects this. Scorsese  and early 80s NYC is a huge influence on the aesthetic of this film, and I dig it. I am also a huge Sinatra fan, so I loved that both the soundtrack to the film and the one in Fleck's head is filled with Sinatra's music. A lot of dancing Joker memes going about already, and yeah, the movie could've done with about 10-12% less dancing Joker, but I think it's a big part of who this guy is. There was one scene when, no kidding, I felt like Joaqin Phoenix did the only interpretive dance performance I'd ever watched from start to finish. He expressed his anger, sorrow, and loneliness all through dance. And I was transfixed. Bravo. 

And the music was also a big part of the pacing of the film. I'll go more into it in the next section, but for a movie that had a glaringly predictable plot, it moved along nicely and never had me bored.

 

TheBad/Meh: Plot

You really see where this thing is headed from the get go and there are few to no surprises. Again, a lot of that is the fault of the trailer. The Taxi Driver & King of Comedy parallels were all there. The only mild surprise was the relationship with his neighbor (Domino!) being a figment of his imagination/psychosis. However, I was still glued to the screen even though I knew where this road was headed. I liked how this film basically tried to say, "Hey, what if Scorsese made a superhero movie in the early 1980s? It probably wouldn't be about a hero at all." Derivative? Yep. Entertaining? Also yep. 



 

Naturally, given his mental state and knowing even the slightest about the villain he becomes, you're going into this movie assuming Fleck is an unreliable narrator. However, the fact Fleck and not just Joker (I'd say post fridge scene he is  more JOKER than Fleck) is revealed to be an extremely unreliable narrator opens up the floodgates for the YouTube 'theorists" to hack away at every piece of dialogue in the film. And that ending scene in the white room, at what we're meant to assume is Arkham, is apparently confusing some people--is it a flash back? Does this mean the previous entirety of the film was all a figment of Flecks twisted imagination? Eh. Nah. It was just a pretty great lead-in for one of the best endings to an anti-hero film ever--those bloody footprints and him running away from an orderly. How many Batman comics have begun with a similar scene? Tonally, this ending was spot on for the Joker.

 

The Ugly: The DCEU
If they did a trilogy of these Joker films with Phoenix, a la Nolan's DK trilogy, I'd be on board. However, with Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn in her own film, who knows where this will end up. If there is never…

 …a Batman to go alongside Phoenix's Joker on screen it'd be a damn shame. Maybe Robert Pattinson's Batman will be the one to meet Fleck Joker? Pattinson's Batman movie isn't slated for release until 2021. So they could meet up in Joker 3 in 2024-ish? So, in my perfect world, the Joker 2 would be about Fleck Joker turning his cult status into a criminal organization and introducing mass chaos to Gotham. Lt. James Gordon and his family are introduced. Harvey Bullock is his partner. Bruce Wayne & Alfred would be the B-plot. Batman shows up in the third act. Third film would be something along the lines of The Killing Joke meets Death in the Family. But it's unlikely to go down that way. Knowing Warner Brothers, Johnny Knoxville will be the next Joker in Suicide Squad III. Meh.

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  • 5 months later...

Corona19 quarantine life got me writing more opinions no one asked for about movies.  So grab some popcorn and your favorite quarantini, we're going to the movies...

 

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Uncut Gems
A
Adam Sandler’s performance along with the editing and music make this a suspense film driven solely by one man’s obsessive, self destructive behavior to constantly get a “better deal” in all aspects of life. It’s riveting from start to finish.

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1917 [IMAX]
B+
The film is beautiful and the gimmick of “one continuous shot” sold me on seeing it in IMAX, but really it didn’t feel as epic in scope as I’d hoped it would. The character development was minimal and the plot not so original, however, the film’s overall pace kept me engaged.

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The Gentlemen
B
Great performances and a well paced little crime plot, but not as many laughs as were advertised or anticipated. Enjoyable but mostly forgettable.

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Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
C
This was definitely trying to be the DC version of Deadpool, but they didn’t go full on comedy. They tried to cram too many ancillary characters in. There were a lot of fight sequences, but they all felt choreographed. And worst of all, they tried to make you believe someone treating other people like shit (usually via theft) was an acceptable moral path to life. It’s a giant mess. The fact I like Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who was wasted in this) and Margot Robbie as performers as well as their characters so much (as portrayed in other media) is the only reason this film gets this high of a grade.

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The Call of the Wild
B-
I love, love, love the original Jack London novel. This film mostly gets the protagonist, Buck, correct. It expands greatly on John Thornton, but changes him in some unnecessary ways. And the film also totally shits on the tone and theme of the classic book. London wrote about the violence and unpredictability of nature, and why it should be respected—survival of the fittest. His book is stark, brutal, and violent. This film is all about the magic of nature—it Disney-fied London’s novel. If they wanted to make a “man and his dog go adventuring in the wilderness” movie, then fine. The CGI dogs were fine. Harrison Ford is fine. Dan Stevens is fine. Calling this movie Call of the Wild—not fine.

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Parasite
A-
This Korean satire about the wealth divide in South Korea seems applicable to all forms of classism, meaning the themes are nothing new. However, the real poetry here comes in the direction and cinematography. The third act has some surprises and some disappointments, but it’s overall a beautiful, and darkly humorous film. 

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Terminator: Dark Fate
B+
The TERMINATOR franchise is just a hot damn mess. But all the nostalgia buttons and member berries were working at full capacity seeing Linda Hamilton kick ass on screen again. Seriously, the first 10 minutes alone are worth it for any T2 fans. The script is bonkers, just so many weird plot holes and leaps of logic. However, the action and pacing are outstanding. Mackenzie Davis is also fantastic as the soldier from the future. (Marvel should recast her as Carol Danvers in Phase 4. Just sayin’.) I was surprised how much I enjoyed this film. It’s better than it has any right to be, and it’s definitely worth a look if you passed on it in the theaters.

Edited by Mr. Hakujin
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All of these films are currently available on streaming services [Amazon Prime, HBO, Hulu, & Netflix]...

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Miss Americana: Taylor Swift
B
I found this an interesting yet incomplete look into arguably the biggest pop star of a generation. You can tell Swift got approval on the final cut as there are some, for lack of a better word, chunks missing. She also takes herself a bit too seriously, but is clearly passionate about women’s rights and equality. The fact she resisted pressure from family and business advisers to speak out on her political beliefs and risk alienating a large part of he fan base showed she has some real character.

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Marriage Story
B+
Well damn, that was heart-wrenching. If everyone is the hero of their own story then how does that play out in a divorce? How does a schism create a whole? This film examines these questions in a fairly satisfying way. 

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The Two Popes
A
How much of this film is fiction and how much is truth? I do not know. But I do know as someone who was raised Catholic, and still believes things like the papacy can do more good than harm in the world, this film is what I hope the unprecedented transition of power from one living pontiff to another was really like. Also, the direction and performances are impeccable.

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Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
A-
I’m not much of a true crime buff, but Netflix keeps making these compelling doc films broken up into three or four one hour episodes. I knew nothing more than the headlines when it came to Hernandez’s story, and wow, what a compelling modern day tragedy his life is. Very well edited, especially the prison audio tapes and surveillance camera footage, which are a key part of the film/series/whatever you wanna call this thing.

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Mel Brooks: Unwrapped
B
HBO doc that edits together different BBC interviews over 30+ years between Brooks & BBC muckity-muck Alan Yentob. Brooks goofs off and adlibs throughout with a Robin Williams-esque energy. Despite it’s haphazard and less than cohesive structure, the doc reveals a few sincere tidbits about Brooks that he lets escape, like the passion he has for singing (he idolizes Sinatra), playing drums, and the “seriousness” of his films. I’d say this is mostly entertaining for Brooks fans only and not the best intro to the man and his work.

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Long Shot
B-
Decent enough rom-com. Formulaic, though it does some gender reversal for a few conventions of the genre, and light despite the political backdrop.

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Hearts Beat Loud
C+
It’s one of those movies about music with original songs that are good. It’s one of those films that has a lot of talented, likeable people, like a great new actress who can sing well, Toni Collette, Ted, Danson, Blythe Danner, & Nick Offerman. Has to be great, right? Nope. It’s one of those films with a great premise but a paper thin script and milquetoast direction. It’s one of those films where the parts are greater than the whole. Also, it has a kickass poster. Just sayin’.

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Spenser Confidential
C+
Another film based on a television show, which was based on a series of novels. But I have fond memories of watching Robert Urich & Avery Brooks solve crimes on Spenser: For Hire, so I was looking forward to this film directed by Peter Berg. Unfortunately Berg phones this one in. I think he was like, “Pshh. It’s a Netflix movie, not a real movie.” Mark Wahlberg stars as his typical blah self. The real shinning moments in this film come from Winston Duke as the underused Hawk, and Iliza Schlesinger as Spenser’s sharp tongued ex. Worth a look for some mindless mediocre action and a few decent laughs.

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National Lampoon’s Dirty Movie
D
It’s basically a bunch of dirty (meaning heavy on the sexism, racism, and pedophilia) jokes strung together as short sketches. It also has a bit of debate on "what is funny," a heaping helping of gratuitous nudity, Robert Klein & Christopher Meloni. But no gratuitous nudity of Klein & Meloni.

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The Old Guard [Netflix]

B

Netflix action film starring Charlize Theron with a by the numbers plot (that’s clearly meant to be the start of a franchise), which I predicted its outcome within the first 15 minutes. Despite its predictability, there was an engaging cast and some decent action.

 

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Honey Boy [Amazon Prime]

A-

If you’ve no prior knowledge of Shia Labeouf’s career or personal life, this will probably be a less moving or emotional experience. There is some disappointing lack of resolution for the two main characters and some uneasy scenes to witness (sex & drugs) but those scenes resonate more when you know of LaBeouf’s meteoric career and turbulent personal life.

 

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Onward [Disney+]

A-

This was a B to B+ Pixar film for me up until the end. Oh damn, that ending was just so beautiful, so many feels. It was one of those endings that really I should have seen coming but totally didn’t, so it blindsided me in the best possible way.

 

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Trumbo

B

The weight of the subject matter is serious, and this film lets you know it. I honestly never knew anything about Dalton Trumbo, but I have of course heard of the shameful McCarthy trials and “Commie witch hunts” of the 1950s. This film puts a very real, very engaging face to this particular dark time in American history. The film’s flaws are in the less than dynamic direction and the script that tries but just falls short of capturing both the darkest time in Hollywood history and a portrait of a great writer caught up in the fear & prejudice of the times—times which have changed and yet, in so many unfortunate ways, still remain the same.

 

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Extraction [Netflix]

B

Based on a comic about the kidnapped son of a Mexican drug lord, the film moves the setting to Bangladesh. It’s got paper thin characters (written by one of the Russo Brothers) but that’s ofset by great action sequences and solid performance of Chris Hemsworth as the lead guy shooting errybody up. It’s overall a predictable but mostly entertaining addition to the genre.

 

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Bad Education [HBO]

B+

This is a streamlined “based on a true story” scandal flick that has a familiar tongue-in-cheek aspect to it. The directing is capable but kind of clunky, and the script is adequate. What really elevates this film his Hugh Jackman’s performance. He has a scene in the third act of his film that is something almost every teacher has felt and wanted to say at some point in his/her career. And Jackman totally nails it. It’s like the park bench scene Robin Williams had in Good Will Hunting—Oscar worthy.

 

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Green Book

B+

It’s a surprisingly mediocre film for one that won Best Picture, Screenplay, & Supporting Actor Oscars. But there is an uplifting quality to it overall; it’s a feel-good film. The fact it is based on a true friendship is really what elevates this to a B+ from a “B” for me.

 

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Breakfast At Tiffany’s

A-

It’s a classic of its genre. What more can I say? I am kinda surprised it hasn’t been remade since it hasn’t aged well in a lot of ways. Also, all these years of seeing posters of Audrey Hepburn from this film and I never knew her character was a big ol’ ho. This explains a lot about at least two of my exes.

 

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Active Measures [Hulu]

A-

I’ve avoided watching this for over a year because I knew it’d just upset me. I had no idea how terrifyingly right I was. There are so many names, dates, and facts, to keep track of that it’s not an easy watch. However, the evidence the documentary lays out in relation to Putin & Russia’s ties at destabilizing the democratic societies of the world, and how Putin is slowly rebuilding the USSR with the aid of Donald Trump, is shocking. How Trump wasn’t removed from office during his impeachment defies logic.

 

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Spaceship Earth [Hulu]

A-

The Bioshpere-2 project was a media frenzy in the early 90s, even inspiring the classic(?) comedy Bio-Dome. This documentary is the behind the scenes story of the extraordinary goup of people who made it happen.

 

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