This is Us

No, not the overrated NBC “drama.” This is Us: the next movie from Jordan Peele.

The trailer caused me to think this (Us) would be a twist on other home invasion films such as The StrangersFunny Games, The Last House on the Left etc. — and certainly that element is a factor.  The same trailer gave me pause that I would be kept from sleeping.  Not so much: Us was a disappointment, and did not get under my skin.  It did not mark, as I had hoped, a narrative progression vis-à-vis Get Out.  No, this is a distinct regression in all ways compared to the film tied for first place of 2017.

A ZOMBIE FLICK – DOPPELGÄNGER PIC RE-HASH/MASH-UP 

Peele had a concept with Get Out that was fresh and thrilling; that level of concept was not to be found in Us.  There are several new ideas here, but essentially we’re talking about a zombie – doppelgänger re-hash mash-up pic that makes you appreciate how much better David Lynch handles this kind of material.

Even so, Us is an entertaining film, especially in the first half.  Fun, and ultimately a bit lame, and underwhelming, which goes to explain why I waited two week to publish this post.  7/10

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Feign-Fighting with My Family

Fighting with My Family may have heart, but the mind and the soul are nowhere to be found.  It’s a yawner, both pedestrian and trite, obviously designed as an extended promotional video for WWE.

The movie is handicapped from the outset by being based on a true story — normally a good thing — which by all appearances is itself not particularly interesting.  One wonders whether a documentary on the subject would have been even less compelling.  Certainly, embellishment of the story via more adept filmmaking would have resulted in an improved product.

The film’s star, Florence Pugh, is good, of course, but she was a lot more interesting in Lady Macbeth.  And despite her performance, the whole thing felt artificial.  I never felt like “Paige” had nowhere else to turn.  A far cry from The Wrestler, or even Patti Cake$.  Her claimed passion was not conveyed.

At one brief moment near the end, Fighting with My Family did strike me on an emotional level, but by then it was too late.  An easy skip; two weeks later and I had completely forgotten watching this one.  3/10

Comparison Notes: (all much better): The Wrestler, Patti Cake$, Honey, 8 Mile, The Fighter, Flashdance, The Pursuit of Happyness; not recommended or better: Soul Surfer

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PS on RT:  Fighting with My Family has a preposterous Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%.  So — another broken meter incident.  Anyone who thinks this is a good movie should not be wasting their time looking at my blog.  And they should definitely not be a movie critic, professional or otherwise.

VOD Log: The Blackcoat’s Daughter

By far the best thing about The Blackcoat’s Daughter, which I heard about during a brief theatrical appearance while I was in Grand Junction in 2017, is the poster above.

Haphazard nonsense mixed together by time shifts and flashbacks do not a good movie make.  The Blackcoat’s Daughter serves as another case in point for the weakness of nonlinear storytelling.  That weakness, more often than not: a very skimpy story at the film’s heart.

A CASE IN POINT FOR THE WEAKNESS OF NONLINEAR STORYTELLING

Lynch talked about the “language of cinema” — but in Lynch’s case, that language still paints a beautiful story.  Lesser filmmakers, with little tale to tell, attempt to rely on that language, broken though it may be, to stand on its own.  To compensate for lack of story.  So I keep beating the drum: without the spine of story, no movie can stand.

Add The Blackcoat’s Daughter to the growing list of A24 films heavy on atmospherics, good acting, and little else.  I admit it did mostly hold my attention; there were stretches of the film that were compelling in that what’s-going-to-happen-next kind of way — again, the formula of many A24 releases.  5/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended, and considerably better): Thelma, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Uninvited, Hereditary, The Shining, I Spit on Your Grave

VOD Log: Three Identical Strangers

Reenactments in documentary film need to be done carefully without looking like a cheesy TV production — or omitted altogether.  Errol Morris set a standard for the former in The Thin Blue Line, and Ken Burns for the latter.  Three Identical Strangers misses the mark and would better have left them out.

Which points to the weakness in the film — I think better documentarians might have presented the material more poignantly.  Still, the content here is powerful and profound.  7/10; sandwich between Crazy Rich Asians and Thoroughbreds on the 2018 List.

Comparison Notes (all recommended and better): The aforementioned Thin Blue Line, Making a Murderer, The Civil War, Searching for Sugar Man

Tumble off with Stan & Ollie [u]

First, a paean to Laurel & Hardy as the shining binary star of early Hollywood.  I have fond memories going back to childhood of their short films, though they were much harder to come by on broadcast television than the ubiquitous Stooges.  Laurel & Hardy were utter genius, and every time I think of them it still makes me smile.

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For Stan & Ollie to work, Coogan and Reilly had to nail Oliver Hardy & Stan Laurel.  And — to the extent that it is knowable without consulting a scholar — they did.  No easy task.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch Stan & Ollie, but I revisited the trailer and sensed that as well as providing insight into the legendary duo, the film would be touching — and it was, especially in the finish, which raised the film from a mostly-7 to 8/10.  And I am happy to do so.  I’m glad I went to the movies.  It’s nice to watch a movie that makes you think and makes you feel.  2019 has set off on the right left foot.  8/10

UPDATE: Scratch that about 2019 setting off on the right left foot.  Apparently Stan & Ollie is a 2018 film, which puts it in 5th place, behind Upgrade on the 2018 List.  Never mind where and when it might have been released (see 2016 End Note).

The Best and Worst of 2018

2018 was the worst year in movies since I’ve been doing my blog (2012), and probably since long before that.  An abysmal year, with almost nothing released that anyone will care about or remember in five years time.  Makes you appreciate 2017 so much more.  So here goes — *Asterisk denotes the film I saw at home via VOD:

Black Panther — 2/10 and Honours for Worst Movie of the Year

You Were Never Really Here — 3/10

Anna and the Apocalypse — 3/10

Disobedience — 4/10

Slender Man — 4/10

Mission: Impossible – Fallout — 4/10

Annihilation — 4/10.  I’m amused how this highly touted and highly hyped film has already been utterly forgotten.

Halloween — 4/10

Destroyer — 4/10

Welcome to Marwen — 4/10

Bad Times at the El Royale — 4/10

A Quiet Place — 5/10

BlacKkKlansman — 5/10

Double Lover — 5/10

Mid90s — 5/10

Game Night — 5/10

Beast — 5/10

The Mule — 5/10

Blockers — 6/10

American Animals — 6/10

The Sisters Brothers — 6/10

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot — 6/10

Sorry to Bother You — 6/10

Blaze — 6/10

A Star Is Born — 6/10

Widows — 6/10

The Old Man & the Gun — 6/10

The Rider — 7/10

Eighth Grade — 7/10

Leave No Trace — 7/10

Crazy Rich Asians — 7/10

Thoroughbreds — 7/10

Searching — 7/10

Cold War — 7/10

Hereditary — 7/10

Roma* — 7/10

First Reformed — 7/10

The Favourite — 7/10

Can You Ever Forgive Me? — 7/10

Upgrade — 8/10

== TOP 3 ==

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3. A Simple Favor — 8/10

2. Free Solo — 8/10

1. Isle of Dogs — 8/10 and Clearly the Best Movie of the Year

End Note (in 3 parts): Yup, Top 3.  Those are the only films of note this year, the only ones that come this time next year I will remember with a fond heart.  Special mention to Upgrade, a surprise entertainment — I almost fashioned a Top 4, but that just didn’t have a ring to it.

Obviously, I have to choose the best prospects of the movies which are released in any given year.  So maybe I’m just missing out.  Maybe 2018 was a better year for films than I am realizing.  Maybe Bohemian Rhapsody and Mary Poppins are really that good.  Maybe I’d like If Beale Street Could Talk, but I’ll probably never find out.  Maybe Green Book or Vice — but I just have zero desire to see any psuedopolitical movies.  The real politics we are dealing with are much more compelling.

It’s hard not to think that the down-swing of films this year is connected to the explosion of television VOD.  But then, that didn’t hurt 2017.

A Toasty Cold War

I went into Cold War hoping to receive some limited salvation from this abysmal year in movies at the hand of Paweł Pawlikowski, the director of Ida, one of the best movies of the last 10 years.  Something, maybe, to eke out at least a Top 5 of 2018.  No such luck.

The problem is that despite the magnetism of the femme fatale Joanna Kulig, the movie is a narrative jumble, especially in the latter half as transitions from one stage to the next seem unfounded and disingenuous.  I wasn’t entirely buying the love story at the heart of the movie either — the chemistry did not work 100%.

I BLAME AMAZON

For all the narrative issues, I blame Amazon, not the director.  Bezos didn’t stick his fingers in Ida, and the result was a lot better.

The dreaded square-frame-for-no-reason rears its ugly head again too.  It was not at all distracting here, but unlike with Ida, it did not seem to add anything either.  Nonetheless, I liked the singing, I liked the music, and I liked the dancing.  All very nice.  There were some luminous moments to be certain.  And the star’s magnetism throughout, even if she’s a bit spoiled.  The post-war Polish setting provided some edification as well.  And finally, maybe I’m giving someone too much credit, but I think there’s a clever double entendre with the title as a cherry on top.  7/10

Comparison Notes: the aforementioned Ida4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 DaysLa Dolce Vita, Barbara, Wings of Desire, Under the Skin, A Star Is Born (2018), La La Land, Leviathan, Blue Valentine