2018 Year End Cinematic Review
Updated: Dec 21, 2019
Well, I decided to come back. My love for the art of cinema runs deep. But Hollywood has basically torn my drawls as my Dad would say. I’m done with awards, could care less about the Oscars, and celebrities annoy me. Everything is political now. Everything. Our nation is divided. It’s all about what side you stand on. Who you voted for. “And you better swipe left if you support that Cheeto Für in the White House!” So naturally, it’s spilled over into all aspects of culture. "There's nothing wrong with that WOMAN defending her dignity in that game store! YOU SHOULD CALL HER MA'AM!!" "There's not enough women directors in Hollywood, that means there's a problem! EQUALITY!" "Let’s go see some local stand-up comedy tonight … wait, how do they feel about the whole NFL kneeling thing? … Yeah no. Let’s go to something else, FREAKING FASCISTS!!!” With movie after movie, song after song, acceptance speech after TV interview on the soap box, consistently throwing fuel on the fire to "remind" us to change. Because in order for such change, it has to be uncomfortable. So push push push for it in everything we experience, even and especially within our entertainment. Push. The. Agenda.
Everything. Is. Political.
We can’t even watch something as supposedly innocent and as straight down the line as it can get as something like Star Wars without it getting political. “Oh you think that Asian chick from The Last Jedi was terrible huh? What, you don’t want to see more strong, independent women in film?!” As if there hasn’t been any to stand out in the last 3 decades. That everything needs to be tit for tat otherwise we’re not making progress as a society. And a simple conversation about how I “didn’t care much” for the new Ocean’s movie, means I’m a whinny man baby who doesn’t want to “let go of the power” as evidenced by my and the rest of our temper tantrums on Ghostbusters (2016). Maybe the movie just sucked? And not everyone is so sensitive about the subject and thinks women are represented just fine on the big screen. It wasn’t always like this, there wasn’t an uproar for “more diversity” when all the campy Batmen were saving the day all throughout the 90’s. Or whenever Tom Cruise was running for his life on motorcycles. But I guess we have to be “woke” to recognize the “problem”.
So Patricia Arquette has to utilize her Oscar speech time to make a statement about the wage gap. So Meryl Streep & JLo can vigorously applaud in agreement, thus starting the next argument to further the divide. And let’s not even get started on the sexual harassment that goes on in Hollywood, that supersedes the pedophilia and other issues that don’t fit neatly into the revolution. "You have to go because it’s a revolution!" … Wait, but that other person gets to stay? You gave him a pass and he’s been working ever since. Shouldn’t he go too because of these new standards? People getting thrown under the bus to save their skins, when they clearly were a part of the scandal to begin with. Hashtags to open eyes, and counter hashtags to close them, calling the hypocrisy. It literally broke me down.
I sat on the side of my bed, frozen, heartbroken. This is the ugliness of my industry. I finally see what I chose to ignore all this time because I loved my line of work no matter what. What I’ve heard before but didn’t think was a life shattering problem. But what do I do now? I had no motivation to continue. I didn’t want to. But I couldn’t just walk away. I’d been working for well over a decade! Do I just throw all that away? Things still look bleak even today. It was a crossroad I found myself at and truly one of the hardest times.
So I just … lived. I couldn’t solve it in one day. The next day, I have to go to work and pick up a few things from the grocery store on the way home. I laugh and relax with my YouTube personalities and something on Netflix that I don’t know what the creators’ political beliefs are. The day after, I work and an interesting trailer releases. I forget what the political beliefs are of the people behind it because I remind myself as I always say, “good filmmaking is good filmmaking”. I go to bed that night comfortably. It’s the weekend and out of habit I check what’s playing at my local movie theater hot spots, “so I don’t miss anything and be forced to cram everything in at the end of the year in time for the next one of these blog posts”. The next weekend I do the same. And then again the next weekend. Then I watch something knowingly that the people behind it make me cringe in real life.
Then I converse with others and remind myself that we in Hollywood are working to entertain you. When you press play on the next episode on Netflix, when you download that song on iTunes or Spotify, when you buy that movie ticket, or game day ticket, or press play on that YouTube video … you’re effectively hiring us, to entertain you. Our lives outside of that game, that movie, that song, that episode, etc. should in theory be irrelevant. It’s when we bring politics into the workplace, THAT’S when you fire us! Yeah, somethings are meant to shine a light on particular subjects to have the conversations. But amongst the resistance (which is necessary for life to continue, even a plane needs resistance to stay in the air), we have to remember the basics: that’s your sister Ben. That’s your brother, and a few of your cousins. You’re going to dislike them because you don’t see eye to eye about politics or whatever the subject may be? You can’t just ignore them and walk away like you would anyone else. THAT’S YOUR FAMILY!! I’ve heard technically, politics should be about 3% of one’s life. I know that’s more textbook than not. But that should give perspective. Focus more on what unites us than what doesn’t. It’s not a walk in the park, but try to remember the basics. Even people on “your side” will surprise you with something you can’t get on board with sometimes. And figuratively, I’ve now finally unfrozen from the side of my bed.
I pick up my screenplay that I haven’t touched in over a year. Tears are in my eyes. “Did I write that?” Tooting my own horn at the same time as smacking myself in the face. “Did I write that?!!! (face palm)” And it’s time to write my next year end review (2017), and would you look at that, I still found 20 films that year to call the best! All this time, out of habit, I made sure to keep up with my movies so as to not fall behind. I still enjoy these things even if the industry gets ugly. Or the celebrities overuse their platforms and it gets to their heads (and explodes mine). It’s not perfect. I don’t hold awards season in the high regards that I used to, especially the Oscars. And nor should I. The films themselves are what matters. I think I even heard George Clooney say that … in an awards acceptance speech. But life still manages to go on after all the infighting and unfollowing, the hash tagging, and article sharing.
I then continue to live with a brighter outlook on life, loving and hating what’s become of my line of work. But deep down I know, everything’s going to be okay.
Well, I decided to come back. My love for the art of cinema runs deep. It gets harder and harder to find the 20 films to say these deserve recognition that year, and this year was probably the hardest of all my years doing this. I almost gave up at 15, to round it off to a nice round number. But I sat and sifted through probably a good 15 more films to finish off strong and complete as always. And I can honestly say …
… It was still worth it!
Here are my favorite films for 2018.
Heard good things and had to check it out. The family aspects are what reaches out and grasps us. The climax reminded me to take care of my daughter should I have one someday. And to continue treating my 2 nieces as my own in the best of care. I said out loud, “boy, he isn’t taking care of her, protecting her, look at what he’s putting her through.” An interesting take on the father-daughter dynamic in a different, outdoor setting. Seeing what the spoils of war put a retired soldier through. Nicely portrayed by Ben Foster. It even caught a little buzz outside of us artsy folk as I heard things from people who don’t care much of film except to have a good time kind of crowd. So I had to be sure to check it out. And I’m glad I did.
This should give hope to all aspiring filmmakers out there, especially if you’ve seen Tangerine. Acclaimed filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, after his success, Logan Lucky, goes back to a more grassroots function and shoots an entire film on an iPhone. And one that’s watchable and entertaining! So unlike Tangerine, I was able to make it all the way through. And I got to see what Claire Foy (Girl in the Spider’s Web, First Man) actually looks and acts like in a typical manner, real life role, which was interesting. It all takes place in one location, an insane asylum, and Foy is fighting the narrative around her as well as in her mind that she isn’t crazy, that she’s un-sane. Not really uplifting come the end, but intriguing and coherent and fits in with its horror/thriller/suspense narrative. Definitely kept me on the edge of suspense as I had to know how it was going to play out. As I said, could’ve been more happily ever after, but where’s the fun in that I guess. Even nice to see Juno Temple branch out a little more with her abilities. Still worthy of deeming one of my top 10.
“What film? I’ve never heard of that one.” Am I right? Well, it’s on Netflix. I came across a trailer push in the trades I believe, and this was one of them. Immediately stood out to me as a film up my alley. Innovative and interesting to say the least. It starts out intriguing and progresses into a mystery, all while keeping the appeal with sizzle. I’d have ended it differently but, again, worthy to be deemed one of the best for me this year. Definitely deserves to be recognized, even if it is technically a TV movie (a much better one than some getting praise now).
Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is definitely a masterpiece. Still influencing films to this day. Just listen to Fallout’s score. But somehow it still keeps the light hearted nature of the Mission films. It just hits home on the action and adventure. I made sure to see it twice while it was still in IMAX. Classic elements of the franchise with new avenues to take it. All-encompassing a powerful new feeling of excitement! A huge success, financially and critically, and the director is coming back to write and direct the next 2 installments. Something the franchise avoids for stale-ness and ignored it for this film. Great job all around, especially all the work Tom Cruise put in with stunts and behind the scenes producing to pull this off.
Well, if you had doubts if Joaquin Phoenix could play the Joker, think no more! This dark and edgy narrative takes a new tone for him even after The Master. Phoenix plays a hit man who gets caught up in trying to protect a little girl in the midst of everything. I watched it earlier in the year and it still stuck with me. Not for the everyday, commercial-going crowd, but definitely one of the best!
Stop walking around the city with a blindfold on! Just thinking about this film should make you take the blindfold off and realize how much of a gimmick that is and how amazing this one is. Truly having to find a quiet place to survive. It does the trick to keep you on edge in a horror way all while not crossing over into the “horror” realm completely (it’s PG-13). So it’s more the illusion and appearance of what will be and not so much seeing it and creeping you out. Hitchcock was forced into and perfected this technique. Nicely done by the onscreen couple in the movie and real life. Even if they unintentionally promoted wholesome, traditional values by mistake and didn’t realize it.
Another sleeper hit that I didn’t see on hardly any year end lists but mine. A group of college boys try to pull off a heist and chaos ensues. Based on the actual event with the real life boys IN THE MOVIE helping to tell the narration but none of this being a documentary. Really interesting! With some of the editing, it made it all that much more captivating and it definitely stuck out as a film few hold a candle to. Easily worthy of the top 5!
Horror has been good to me these past couple of years. It was my number 1 a few years ago. And 2 of my top 5 this year. Up until the end of this season, this was my number 1. It debuted in the middle of the year, so there was a lot of time for other films to debut. But again, it wasn’t until the end of the year that it was topped so, good on you horror for stepping it up! I’ve come to appreciate Toni Collette’s scream now. It’s very believable and sympathetic. I called this one “The Haunted Art-House” as it was an arthouse horror flick about a family that ends up haunting a house essentially. More than just commercial scares. Which is why most people didn’t care much for it as it ends “artsy” and not “feel good”. But it leaves you thinking and figuring it out still afterwards. Take that as a good thing or bad. It made for great conversation with co-workers of mine who love horror.
Masterpiece! Simply a masterpiece! Yorgos Lanthimos is really stepping his game up over these years. This is the crescendo. On the way out of the theater, I shockingly had to tell the random lady next to me that I finally figured out and understood the ending. We had an interesting exchange. But most people won’t really appreciate it as much as us film geeks. Yeah, I know, but when you watch as many as us, it takes more than a few explosions and a love scene to win us over. The dynamic between the three leads was incredible. The story puts away any personal dispersions you may have in real life of the actresses because, as I say, good storytelling is good storytelling. This can easily be deemed the best of the year and I’d be okay with that. If you’re up for a challenge and something out of the ordinary, give this a try. Put your thinking cap on and see if you can figure out the ending. No Googling!
Looks like I’m alone again. Both critics and the general public gave it an F. I’m glad I made time to see it twice while still in theaters. Will definitely purchase when it’s on home video, which I’m sure will be very soon as there’s no reason to hold it hostage and keep it in theaters. Again, the ending, but the same with The Favourite and this was a lot more everyday dialogue digestible. I loved it, absolutely loved it. The artsy response to A Star Is Born. Unlike its commercial, easily digestible counterpart, it’s actually necessary. A different take on a similar story that doesn’t have you thinking it’s similar but innovative. You can compare the two or not. But a gripping take on the world of show biz and how this town can chew you up and spit you out. And since I’m on this theme that I started from the beginning, since the story captivated me, I didn’t care to think of anything Natalie Portman has said off camera about this and that and last year at the Golden Globes, or what baby number Jude Law made with girlfriend number 4058472. I only thought of things that contributed to my enjoyment. And that’s if I thought of anything at all other than the story itself while watching. Listen to your body, that’s the best way to tell. The best of the year!
"… Whoa come one now. Really Ben?? *THIS* should’ve easily made the cut! …"
Well, I always recognize 20.
11. The Rider
12. All Is True
13. Cold Skin
14. 22 July
18. The Mule
20. Beautiful Boy
(*See Crazy, Rich, Asians below)
If Beale Street Could Talk
*Sigh* … Okay, let’s get this over with.
Alright, remember all that political crap I started out with? Well, this has become the face of the movement, or at least some of its facial features. The social justice crowd, eager to spread the message, found something new to latch onto and make it a part of the crusade. And as I’ve been saying all along, because it clearly didn’t suck, it becomes a whole lot more than what it is. And so, because it didn’t suck, the movement can then point the finger at any nay-sayer and deem them racist or discriminatory in general. Thus, elevating the film to an EVEN HIGHER status as some kind of god-like nature, blessing us with its mercy to share its goodness in this heavily divided political time.
So it makes no surprises whatsoever, when “all of a sudden”, The Academy announces with little explanation, that they’re going to introduce a new category of awards this upcoming Oscar ceremony, “Best Achievement in Popular Films”. And that was it, a new category to be on the lookout for this next ceremony, cool! So many critics jumped on this with questions. What constitutes a popular film? Can a film be both a popular one and critically acclaimed (Dunkirk, Argo, Avatar, etc.)? The biggest explanations we received was because The Academy was trying to avoid coming off as racist with the whole #OscarsSoWhite backlash that happened a few years back and is still lingering with everything political now. Which perfectly epitomizes all of this. “There are not enough blacks and other minorities represented, so there must be a problem, something has to change. Oh look, an all-black film in this new trend of multiple superhero films now coming out. Yes! Exactly what’s needed! THIS is the pinnacle of the revolution!” If it’s not 50/50 or tit for tat, there’s a problem. So we blow things out of proportion to suit our political interests. Even if they’re stupid ideas to begin with (popular film Oscars). Which is exactly what happened. The Academy couldn’t answer any of the questions, a lot of which from reporters all on board with the agenda, and so right away they announced the doing away with the popular film category. We saw right through it, a cheap attempt to try and give Black Panther an Oscar. This film just HAS to be recognized, somehow someway. Get Out was given a screenplay Oscar the year before (but by gosh why not more than that??!! #OscarsSoWhite!!). “Will Smith wasn’t recognized for that African surgeon football movie he did, #OscarsSoWhite!! Michael B. Jordan wasn’t recognized as the boxer in Creed but his white co-star Sylvester Stallone was!! #OscarsSoWhite!! All we want is some !@#$%^&* recognition for our hard work! This must be because of racism and no other reason whatsoever! VIVA LA REVOLUTION!!”
And Black Panther is an awards heavy film now. Worthy to be deemed one of the best of the year.
It just couldn’t be that minorities make up a fraction of the population and their representation on screen reflect such. Or even if that isn’t the case, it couldn’t just be that most women like to see strong men on screen and dream about being saved and woo’d by them, rocking their world. That men dream as well of being that guy who saves the girl. Both wouldn’t care seeing a woman as that hero, but it’s not some injustice if this doesn’t happen. No no no, it’s discrimination! No other explanation could even possibly suffice. And any explanation given in response is an alignment with such discriminatory views.
THIS. CRAP. HAS GOTTEN OUT OF HAND!!
I liked Black Panther. It was a fun action flick and a great next step for Marvel/Disney to explore. But in no way do I take it anymore than that (besides, I thought Aquaman was better). And I can’t just say that because I’m a traitor to my race apparently if I don’t drop to my knees and kiss the ring. Black Panther is just a run of the mill, commercial action flick, nothing more. Get Out is a run of the mill, commercial horror flick, nothing more. Wonder Woman is a run of the mill, action flick, nothing more (though I hated it but I’ll give you that you had a good time at the movies). But because it’s the first (first in a while actually, but that means it’s the absolute first) therefore it’s groundbreaking and monumental. God’s gift to mankind that was so merciful and gracious to bless us with its presence.
Stereotypical hero situations and dialogue that don’t raise the bar. Character and world traditions that raise questions but, “should fall by the wayside where they belong” because, this is a revolution Ben! What, you’re not on our side? What’s wrong with you?! And again, I can’t just not like it as much as you without being called a racist or trying to stop the movement. We can’t just agree to disagree. Everything is political, when it doesn’t have or need to be. And that’s so heartbreaking to witness all of this.
AND IT’S A SHAME THAT I HAVE TO SAY THAT!!!
A STAR IS BORN
A well executed film project that misses the mark.
This angers me just as much if not more than the political invasion that’s spilled into everything now. That’s because it’s existed before such invasion. It is the number one problem I have with Hollywood and it shows no signs of changing as Hollywood apparently doesn’t think it’s a problem at all. Everyone gets a ton of money, so it doesn’t matter. And we all get to see Lady Gaga act in movies now, she’s now legit. Not just in the music world. All is well with the force.
And the actress who’s been acting for 14 years on the scene, in background role after background role after supporting role after supporting role as “that girl from …” in role after role gets overlooked. She can sing she can dance and most of all, she’s pledged her life to the craft and the discipline of film first and foremost. In fact, she turned down a career in music to pursue an acting one. And lo and behold, after a decade and a half, she gets to audition and lands a role for La Vie En Rose … and wins an Oscar! That’s the first time most people have seen her. Now she’s everywhere. We can’t get enough of her! Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Nine, Midnight in Paris, Allied … She’s earned her spot. A star … is born! But imagine never having seen Marion Cotillard. She stayed in the French circuit, because she never could catch that big break, couldn’t even audition for La Vie En Rose …
… BECAUSE YOU GAVE THE PART TO LADY GAGA!!
It doesn’t matter how good of a job she does. She took the part from someone who wasn’t even given a chance to try! It’s not like she was the best audition, Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, she was GIVEN the role! And an actress who’s earned this opportunity and would’ve went from “that girl from” to “*insert her name that we all know*”. Lady Gaga should’ve been heavily involved behind the scenes basically taking credit for all the music, making sure that’s all on point. And if she really wants to become a legit actress in the room now, okay, go to the back of the line and take a supporting role in this film and give the new guy who’s earned it their big break. YOU’RE LADY GAGA, it’s not like you’re missing out on something. But the new girl is, that’s for darn sure! They may never get this again. And that’s all because you have to do this one thing right now. Like her performance or not, she cut in line and it’s disrespectful to everyone who didn’t get a chance to try, because it was given to Lady Gaga (to Beyonce, to Rihanna, etc). THAT’S MY BIGGEST PROBLEM WITH HOLLYWOOD!! Right along with the one-sided political groupthink!
“Okay, okay Ben. I get it. It sucks that this is what Hollywood does. As this is more of a knock on the industry and not so much Lady Gaga. Bradley Cooper took on this directorial debut because he envisioned her and only her in this role and the only reason he would do this in the first place. He shut down everything mid-production for a good 6 weeks to make her take acting lessons, and they worked! She really worked her butt off to fully embody this role! She couldn’t even turn it off as they went on because she was so into the part lol. I’ll give it to you, it was wrong how she got there, but you can’t deny that she was amazing once she did get there! Come on Ben, two things can be true at once. I’ll admit your point, but you have to admit this!”
Fair point, but is a star born? No no, Lady Gaga’s acting career now kicking off doesn’t count! This material screams for you to anoint someone’s career as the amazing new guy in town. The prettier girl in the pretty dress at the party that’s got all the other women jealous. The star! Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, and because of this point I’m making is why Cary Grant turned it down. That material anointed the new girl, the star, whom we all will cherish ’til death do us part (thus taking away fame from the already established star) … I cared primarily and mostly about how good of a job Bradley Cooper did. How he really took his acting to another level learning the guitar from scratch and nailing that country boy persona, accent and all. How he’s now a kick ass director getting Lady Gaga from bad to great and honoring the material giving nods to the originals “I just want to take another look at you (*wink)”. Lady Gaga, whom I have no real animosity towards (it's more for Hollywood), is a nicely shaped entity that doesn’t fit into all of this, because she’s already a star. Yeah yeah I get it, “it’s called acting Ben, MAKE BELIEVE!” But you wouldn’t cast Brad Pitt as the new Mary Poppins though either. Regardless of how good of a job he would do. How hard he worked to pull it off. And let’s not even get into the political invasion we’re all in, creep its way into yet one more thing. “So he’s trans, what, do you have a problem with that??!!!” Now he BETTER play Mary Poppins, end of discussion! And we’ve completely avoided the root of the issue, because, that celebrity we all love is now acting. Hopefully she wins an Oscar now, because, how cool would that be?! She’s legit now in Hollywood! And the would be next Marion Cotillard is STILL looking for auditions! Maybe to no avail.
A star is not born, Lady Gaga’s acting career has begun, IN PLACE OF SOMEONE WHO DIDN'T GET AN AUDITION. And I can’t just let that go and enjoy how good of a job she did because the essence of the story hasn’t been captured on screen. A star isn’t born, it’s Hollywood and all of you Lady Gaga worshippers forcing Brad Pitt as the new Mary Poppins on me.
Had she kick started careers as she tries to ascend to the top, like Eminem did on 8-Mile (Anthony Mackie/the black guy with wings apart of The Avengers, and a handful of the other rapper friends of Em on that film are all working actors now because of that), or what LeBron James came to the Lakers in part for (furthering his production company to heavily continue to produce content), or how I’ve pretty much gotten over Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson existing in Hollywood at all (because he has a production company that he runs with his ex-wife as they discovered they work well together and this is how they can still be good parents to their daughter, while they give jobs to actors looking for a chance to try) … had there been a great deal or somewhat of a portion of something along this line, I’d ultimately have let this whole Lady Gaga acting thing go, it’s a double edged sword. So ... her character's gay best friend? Only time will tell. But we both know that's a cop out to justify Lady Gaga being in this movie. My beef is more with Hollywood for yet again doing this. Bradley Cooper wanted her in the role, etc. But she accepted and went along with this too. So she's not completely innocent.
It’s the disrespect aspect of it. And then on top of that, they didn’t even get it right, missing the mark. Doesn’t matter how good of a job she may have done. Stop forcing Brad Pitt as Mary Poppins, or a circle in a triangular hole. It doesn’t matter how perfectly shaped that circle is, you’re forcing something that never belonged there in the first place. A big time celebrity singer, THE BIGGEST THERE IS, playing the new girl who’s never sang before in front of massive crowds, is nervous about it, unsure of herself, and doesn’t know if she has what it takes. We the audience are on edge and are as nervous as she is if she can pull it off. Can she sing well? Does she have a good voice? … OH MY GOSH SHE DOES HAVE A GOOD VOICE!! SHE SINGS GREAT!! As we YouTube’d Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl performance from a couple years ago, right before we went to see the movie. She was the WRONG. PERSON. FOR. THE JOB!! It doesn't matter how good of a job of acting she may have done.
Stop forcing Brad Pitt as Mary Poppins! That’s never going to work! All I saw was Lady Gaga in a 2 hour music video.
Put the new girl who’s earned it in the role and cast the big time celebrity from another industry (who hasn’t earned it in the world of film) in a supporting role for marketing purposes/movie ticket sales. But Hollywood must insist on continuing to put celebrities in acting roles and take away jobs from much more deserving actors who’ve never got a chance to even try! And then on top of that, in this case, the essence of the film is entirely or heavily missed. Or in other cases, like anything dealing with Beyoncé, the quality of the film goes straight into the toilet!
Other than the one-sided, political groupthink, THIS IS MY BIGGEST PROBLEM WITH HOLLYWOOD!!
STOP. DOING THIS!!
CRAZY, RICH, ASIANS
Just like all the political crap I opened with and continued with Black Panther, this is pretty much an exact continuation of that. Replace “Black” with “Asian” and here we go again.
However, this time I can’t say I enjoyed and liked the film as I did with Black Panther and things just got way too out of hand. THIS WAS A BORDERLINE TERRIBLE FILM that things got way too out of hand in the aftermath. Not as much as Panther but too much nonetheless. It’s the first (first in a while, but in this political revolution, that means first ever) all Asian casted film to stand on its own and tell a coherent story. Therefore, IT’S THE GREATEST MOVIE about this subject! Face palm, sigh, repeat. It’s really frustrating how bad things have gotten. How we latch onto things in search of a new hope. It’s a reflection of the state of the culture of our nation. In the 70’s, all the original people who started Hollywood were retiring or dying off. So corporations were taking over, people who don’t know the first thing about running a movie studio. So they tried to find people who did, or at least take things in a new direction. Thus, they went and acquired the talent of the likes of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Brian De Palma, amongst others, fresh out of film school, and eager to make their mark. Let this new up and coming talent experiment and try new things. Hence, a widely held consensus that the 70’s is the greatest era of filmmaking (my hat would probably be for the 30’s, but the point still stands). Scorsese, Kubrick, Hopper, … all coked up and sexed out on all kinds of substances, letting their imaginations take them beyond the sky, no limits … the possibilities were endless. The films reflected this culture of unfathomable wonder.
Today, we’ve moved significantly away from movie stars all together and reached out to brands. Marvel, Star Wars, Disney, Transformers, Wolverine, Bond, not so much the people who will play these characters and fill these worlds. Don’t forget that politics has to spill in all areas of culture, “if it’s not an exact reflection of the population, then things aren’t equal! We demand justice!” And so, anything, ANYTHING that kind of sort of gets the ball in the general direction of this target, I didn’t say close to, but starting to roll that way in the slightest, OH MY GOSH PROGRESS!! YES!! FINALLY!! And so, we elevate it to a status beyond belief. And thus, Crazy, Rich, Asians is groundbreaking material that breaks boundaries and especially walls because those are racist. It’s about time our entertainment is as diverse as the rest of the country, etc. etc. (never mind that minorities are in fact the minority) and thus, the film being up for all the awards, making its rounds on every news and talk show program, overhyped and made out to be something it isn’t at all. It’s a borderline terrible TV film with acting that reflects such. I’m surprised it got a theatrical release … oh no wait, I just thoroughly explained why.
And it doesn’t pain me to say this as a minority myself. Merit should never be erased as what’s happening here with the political spill over. When Idris Elba was snubbed for Beasts of No Nation, THAT was an atrocity that I made sure to voice my opposition. He won all the awards that year and was recognized by all of us critics and experts as the year’s best supporting actor (who just so happened to be black), and wasn’t even nominated for the big kahuna (the Oscar). All the other black actors (Will Smith, Michael B. Jordan, Jason Mitchell, Shameik Moore …) you could throw away. Idris just happens to be a black actor who did the best job that year in the supporting actor category. That’s all I want. It’s nice when the points align and they happen to share my culture. But as MLK famously stated, we should be basing our judgments on a person’s character, not the color of their skin. Pushing back against a “lack of diversity” in everything we experience is the complete OPPOSITE of what Dr. King fought for. He’s turning in his grave right now with how ridiculous things have become! “Oh a movie with an all-black cast, or a female as the superhero lead, or a horror flick that centers around blacks, we never see that, or an Asian cast … it clearly didn’t suck, so, therefore, IT’S THE BEST!!!” People, stop. Just, stop.
*At least Gosnell, another TV film that got a tiny fraction of a theatrical release (one weekend, and I wonder why, it’s a pro-life film) had a powerful message behind it. So much so that I gave it a shout out in my honorable mentions.* But I clarify, it is a TV movie, and its quality reflects such. Overall, I enjoyed it and was glad that it was made. But in no way does it deserve to be given the red carpet as if it’s God’s gift to mankind and overhyped because it’s just so fearfully and wonderfully made. As Black Panther, Lady Gaga’s acting, and now Crazy, Rich, Asians are made out to be. And this goes especially for Crazy, Rich, Asians. I see why A Star is Born is praised. And can make the connection to Black Panther, or even something like Get Out (with much cringe). But a TV film with borderline terrible acting? People, I know we’re in search of a revolution to push the progressive agenda here but, let’s at least be honest with ourselves!
This is another awards film that’s getting caught up in the recognition sweep. Plus it deals with segregation and racism so that fits perfectly with the revolution. But aside from it being elevated a little more than necessary, it is enjoyable. And if you’re going to overhype something more than you should, I’d definitely pick this over something like Black Panther or especially Crazy, Rich, Asians. If the Oscars were still important, this being nominated wouldn’t bother me so much as those two.
So my beef is if anything deserves recognition about this film, it’s Viggo Mortensen’s performance. He put on like 40lbs. or something and had an Italian accent for the role. He was the convincing factor that made this film work. His boorish mannerisms that says “I don’t take any crap from anyone and will absolutely die for my family.” He nailed that Sopranos good guy gangster (the appearance of one). But that’s it. Everything else in this film you can throw away. I was calling stuff out before it happened. Predictable, nothing I haven’t experienced before. But yes, it was pretty good overall, very “feel good”. But also, if you want to get into the best of the year and what deserves to be nominated, Viggo Mortensen, and nothing else. What, you couldn’t see the obvious and slightly bad CG with Mahershala Ali’s head on another guy’s body to pull off him being a phenomenal piano player? *laugh emoji*
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
I was intrigued that Sony would start a series of films, a cinematic animated universe, an “aniverse”. Something that WB is actually doing well. Not exactly like what Marvel’s doing in the live action realm (and the only thing Marvel’s doing right believe it or not), but a shared universe nonetheless still. Here they were (Sony), taking their lucrative product (Spider-Man), and expanding as he’s all they have, but he’s an ocean of endless material, seriously. Utilizing Miles Morales, introducing him to the general audience who only know the basics when it comes to Spidey, and really getting some good material off the ground. I was pumped!
Then I saw the absolute and complete abomination called Venom. Which, Sony’s live action Spider-Verse was contingent upon. So since all you simple minded folk gave it all of your money, we’re a go. Spelling that out doesn’t make me feel so bad anymore. But anyways, after Venom (saying that out loud makes me feel bad and completely cringe though), we got a preview for ani-spider-verse. My anticipation went away at that moment. “Oh this is a kids film.” And it would’ve been nice if Spider-Man: Homecoming gave me this warning up front instead of ambushing me opening night. For aniverse, I felt a slight blow to the stomach. Kiddie dialogue, “only in an animated film geared for younger audiences” type of scenarios and behavior. It’s supposed to be funny and charismatic, but you’re also showing your hand. “Oh this is what you are, not what I was expecting. But good luck to you. I’m no longer on the bandwagon.” And it wasn’t even opening night yet. The girl next to me on opening night (well, a week before for me) said the same, but we’re both comic lovers so we were just hoping for a coherent and fun story to enjoy … and to leave it at that. You hear that Black Panther, Crazy, Rich, Asians, and if it was full of nothing but Hawaiian/Somoan culture, Aquaman lovers? You can love it and leave it at the same time.
Spider Ham? Who is animated differently to stay true to character, of the Looney Toons, Porky Pig world. That did it for me in the preview before Venom. But then when I watched the movie, a Nicholas Cage, noir detective, black and white, superhero who jumps off walls and swings? AN ANIME TEENAGE GIRL ROBOT SPIDER HERO???!!! … Okay, I see your Porky Pig, no let’s go for your most extreme, I see your anime teenage girl (cringing saying that out loud) and I raise you a Ren & Stimpy vomit inducing masters. The vomit is a weapon and it also hardens quickly so they can use it to swing off buildings. Oh noir spider hero? Okay, why not a Bender the robot superhero who can bend the strongest metals with his hands and stretch across buildings to travel fast? And he eats pink pork gum for strength, so make him a rival villain to Spider Ham. See? I’m contributing! Oh and those were real TV episodes for Bender by the way, “and it pinkens your teeth while you chew!” What about a Ned Flanders spider hero … he does nothing! But he is buff, and maybe have his mustache do something!
TOO. MANY. COOKS. IN THE KITCHEN!!
It should’ve just been Peter Parker & Miles Morales, the whole movie. Peter showing Miles the ways of the Force, and little by little, Peter shows Miles something, they discover something new that Miles possesses or info needed to move the story along, Miles fails and barely makes it out alive and as we progress, we see Miles learning on the job and putting things into action that he failed at in a previous scene, and properly build up the rapport with the narrative and between characters. Homecoming had one small part that hinted at this and then ruined all the potential (locked in the warehouse all night practicing and then implementing ONE thing he learned the next day on the ferry, no more references after that). But we can’t do this if you’re introducing character after character after character that has their own objectives and characteristics, bogging down the narrative, and taking up screen time having to explain everything. Ruined potential just from this aspect. Now make it more for everyone and not just “a kiddie thing”. Which Pixar has sadly fallen into now.
Even if you take one of the more wacky or “animated” characters, like the anime girl, and write and weave the narrative brilliantly that she’s teaching him or the rules of her world make her just as vulnerable and the inexperienced hero Miles who learns what it means to be a hero and just like in the solely he & Peter narrative, all the lessons make that finale so perfect because it’s just putting the pieces together, perfectly and already introduced before! Miles is a superstar hot shot in the big climax with Kigpin because deep down he has the passion to do this? Where’s the Rocky moment on the stairs?
I want Kim Kardashian’s big butt, or a girl that comes close. But just wanting it means nothing. Show me reading books about comedy, or watching pick up artists and dating coaches on YouTube, or me speed dating, or talking to girl after girl and giving it my all but coming up short every time. And spelling it out what my mistakes are, showing why I never get past getting a number, or getting a girl to meet up, or not getting a kiss on a date, etc. And then, after awhile, there she is, the girl I’ve worked for all this time with the Kardashian trophy behind her, and each subconscious defense mechanism she throws out, every sh*t test she presents, you see me give the right response verbally and physically, because you’ve seen me fail from that very objective before. And a big smile comes over your face as you’re so lucky to witness all of this. “Wow, Ben really earned this!” Because you’re right there with me the whole time, falling down with me and getting right back up to try again. According to the Spider-Verse: as a failing virgin of a few times now, my latest rejection hits close to home and I’m determined to get this right. So when I see the supermodel, the girl of my dreams and that of every guy on the planet, suddenly, I’m better than any pick up artist and dating guru out there after only my first couple of days of trying. And I look good doing it too!
And then on top of that, this feeling is basically impossible to achieve if you have to introduce so many other factors that expand this story into something bigger than what it needs to be (more and more characters). Making it harder and harder to keep a clear eye on the destination of the voyage. Yes, you can utilize the dating coach and the speed daters cleverly and make for an interesting story, but you can make for an even greater story with characters you’re REALLY attached to if you just keep it with Rocky and his trainer. Sure, there are other characters in Rocky, but in the realm of the Spider-Verse, it’s Rocky and 5, count ‘em, 5 OTHER TRAINERS! Not the guys in the training background who get to wear Rocky's logo ringside, eating up screen time, supporting role, movie poster shared, trainers. And no, a team up, Avengers-like film is too soon. Don’t pull a Justice League. Too many over the top, "animated", cooks in the kitchen that not only clog the story making it hard for something meaningful to get through, but dilute the quality of the story to take it serious in the first place. "Oh this is a kid's film. That's a shame."
So when Dad gives Miles the heartfelt talk, thus triggering his superhero abilities, and then he goes on to save the day, I didn’t buy any of that. It was an honest effort, I’ll give it that. But just like Baby Driver, I was the Kardashian-esk girl this time, slapping me in the face for a cheap attempt. Come correct or not at all. That entire ending I should’ve been nodding my head putting the puzzle together. Piecing the lessons that Peter taught Miles all this time. The innovative animation (made to look like you’re actually reading a comic book) doesn’t help or make up for an overcrowded story that does the trick for a younger audience but shouldn’t be taken seriously for any other crowd (again, it’s so sad now that Pixar has also fallen into this category). And since nobody ever dies in a comic book movie and nothing ever really changes and this already annoys you, this won’t help, it’s more of the same.
Not to mention it didn’t help that this was basically a condensed rip off of one of the animated TV series from a few years back. This entire movie was basically one of the seasons, overall plot by plot, “made for kids” aspect and all. When I found that out, I realized I put too much expectations on this. And had I known, I wouldn’t have gotten my hopes up in the first place and not taken it seriously. Which supports my main point, each character could’ve been its own movie. Like I said, a Miles & Anime girl film, a Miles & Peter film (what it always should’ve been), etc. And something intended for everyone and not just kids could’ve surprised us all as a true yet unexpected knockout. Wreck-It-Ralph 2 was this year's best animated film, not Spider-Verse. Both are just good for "animation" though, and not enough to break out of the box. Ralph made a good effort though as I almost shed a slight tear.
But, “lighten up Ben, you’re taking this stuff way too seriously. It was great, you’re being too picky, I didn’t see any of what you just said, I had a lot of fun …” and get ready for more pumped out content that isn’t quite there with a lot of failed and frustrating potential. Everyone has to have their cinematic universe.
I will say it was good that there was a nice, wholesome message that it sent about a world or a society having rules. But everyone is welcome within that society provided they enter and assimilate by those rules. So I really liked that about it.
There was a lot of critical acclaim and buzz with this one. I really tried to give it a shot and I enjoyed what I saw. Yeah, “what I saw”, went to a new restaurant after church one Sunday and made sure to check out that really good arthouse, Oscar worthy foreign flick (that gets me going just saying that!) … 3/4ths of the way through, completely fell asleep! Whoa, didn’t see that coming. But it’s critically acclaimed! And what I saw, I really liked!
Well, okay, I’ve got Destroyer, Vice, Beale Street, All Is True, and Cold War still to see in theaters; Red Sparrow, Tully, Death of Stalin, Cold Skin, Blindspotting, and Beautiful Boy still to watch at home; after THAT maybe I’ll come back to it if there’s time. I’ve got a lot of work to do. Maybe I was just tired that day. I mean, I did sit through an entire church service, Sunday school, ate a warm meal, and now I’m in a dark theater. Yeah that had to have been it.
Well, I diligently watched and returned my DVD’s, emptied my online watch lists, hit all my theater show times and still had time to go out and party it up to celebrate the new year and being basically done with my 2018 list. My last film before the new year’s celebration was, you guessed it, this! For the second time. No movies to see. Nothing to go back home and get through before the next item on my day’s agenda. Nothing, you can watch this movie before it leaves the theater in a couple days, or not, and write it off while as a cinematic failure while you prepare for New Year’s. I woke up and gave this a second shot … I fell asleep again IN THE EXACT SAME SPOT AS LAST TIME!! At least I caught a frame of the last image this time so I don’t just imagine one from reading the synopsis. It’s a decent film. I liked what I saw. Enough to give it more than just a “whatever” slot but maybe (I stress “maybe”) an honorable mention with an asterisk. It’s just a slightly boring movie a little before the 3rd act ’til the end. "Oh Lucy!" is a much better alternative. So Ben, always remember the brilliant advice you received a long time ago in an apartment far far away, which is probably brilliant because it seems brilliantly simple yet complex, “listen to your body.”
Which brings me to this film. Same as above. Loved what I saw, put me to sleep right before the climax could orgasm. Worthy of maybe (I stress “maybe”) an honorable mention with an asterisk, but can clearly avoid a “whatever” or “disappointment” slot. But still, a little boring, obviously. Listen to your body. The Q&A afterwards with Nicole Kidman and director Karyn Kusama going a little too off the cliff on their feminist tangents probably didn’t help either to get me to stay afterwards and see if I was just tired. But as I just mentioned above, my body was the best critic in the matter. And I had to make a show time for Vice within the hour (which I was wide awake for the entire film). Plus, the whole Nicole Kidman all but defeated from the effects of drugs but still able to pull of the physicality of a detective police officer holding shoot outs, foot and car chasings, and being rough and tough with criminals, all while being sick off drugs? I just couldn't swallow that. Before the drugs really take over maybe.
(You know the drill, if it’s here, either it down right sucked, or it failed to live up to its potential)
Solo: A Star Wars Story
The Incredibles 2
Sorry to Bother You
A Simple Favor
How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Venom (huge middle finger)
Mom & Dad
For another year (2018), let’s review:
1. Vox Lux
2. The Favorite
4. American Animals
5. A Quiet Place
6. You Were Never Really Here
7. Mission Impossible: Fallout
10. Leave No Trace
11. The Rider
12. All Is True
13. Cold Skin
14. 22 July
15. The Death of Stalin
16. The Night Eats the World
18. The Mule
20. Beautiful Boy