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Blow Out (1981)
9/10
A forgotten gem
19 October 2019
This is the best argument for De Palma being Hitchcock's heir-apparent, this being his skewed cover of Rear Window. A representation of the gaslighting of American citizens by the powers-that-be, this is my favorite of his films, & one of the great paranoid thrillers. The sheer filmmaking brilliance is beautiful: slasher film hilarity, duel view of the news & Travolta's work (he's never been better), multiple viewpoints of the notorious night, & of course his signature foreground face focus.
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10/10
Masterpiece.
18 October 2019
An incredible confluence of talent & subject; a movie that captures our current American cultural moment better than any other. Eisenberg absolutely kills it, playing an obnoxiously aloof, ego-centric sociopath who is as monstrous as he is sad, a proto-internet troll with limitless boundaries. It's low-key one of the funniest movies of the decade; delightfully evil, the Sorkin dialogue is rapid-fire genius. All this ignoring the stunning technique: editing, music, cinematography, general tone.
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7/10
Ooky October Fun
18 October 2019
We seem to be at a plateau with Hollywood animation. While Pixar and Disney continue to push the boundaries of what computer-based animation can do both technically and artistically, most have figured out how to do the bare minimum to get in theaters. Normally this would be considered purely lazy and cheap, and I suppose it is. However, this inability, or lack of desire, to advance the technical part of animation has caused some of them to lean more into the style and messaging. This was the case with Abominable (though unsuccessful, to me) and is also true for The Addams Family. The main difference is, with its "dead"-pan wordplay and gentle ribbing of American norms peppering its kind and content characters, Addams is just much more up-my-alley than the faux-sincerity in most kid's films. We find our fiendish friends learning how to assimilate into their new neighborhood, only to experience some predictable pushback from the status quo. There's no real surprise of any kind in the plotting, and some of the voice-casting is less-than inspired (Kroll as Fester is especially obnoxious). However, there's some unexpected social critiques here laying a foundation for the spooky schtick. Government-wielded assimilation, media manipulation, comparison-based capitalism; it's all clearly there if you want it from your children's entertainment. In the end, this is just a great property. Unlike the Hotel Transylvania franchise, the Addams aren't just playing around the edges of the macabre, but are diving right in. The family at the center clearly care for each other, but because of the darkness in the humor, it rarely comes off as saccharine, providing inoffensive yet entertaining October fun that'll really make you screa-um.
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Descendants 3 (2019 TV Movie)
8/10
I don't know if the Mexican border crisis was an intended parallel, but damn...it's certainly there.
18 October 2019
I'm a fan of the first two "Wicked"-influenced kid's musicals, but holy cow...the is the best by far. With the best songs, most in-depth and creative use of the premise, bigger stakes, better performances (Mal as an old hag is everything) and sets / set-pieces that harken Broadway, it notches up the best of the series. However, the key to its greatness is its core principal: justice for everyone, regardless of your lot.
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4/10
Michael Caine is a TERRIBLE shrink
18 October 2019
De Palma's update on Psycho is neither as good a many of his best films, or worthy of the film it's homage-ing. Its camp isn't as successful in its intended sleaze, often coming off as laughable instead of intriguing. Still, if you wanna see a modern-ish remake of the Hitchcock classic, it destroys Van Sant's abominable remake.
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Descendants 2 (2017 TV Movie)
6/10
Also, has anyone else noticed how woke these movies are?
15 October 2019
Less inspired than the first, but man if this universe isn't still squeezing out plenty of great dance numbers and lots of bright fun. The diversity of all types in the casting is noble, and the song between Eve and Mal is a sweet celebration of female friendship.
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Carrie (1976)
9/10
The horrors of being an American teen, told through the De Palma's playfully unnerving lens.
13 October 2019
Similar to Frankenstein, Carrie is one of the few horror "monsters" in which your loyalties and sympathies are 100% with her. Spacek is truly wonderful; broken, naïve, and scary. What she becomes is almost completely brought on by her upbringing. In fact, the movie really serves as an argument for nurture being more important than nature...we even see this in the real monsters: the other teens.
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Descendants (2015 TV Movie)
7/10
I'm here for ALL of this
12 October 2019
Hallmark movies: bad. Reimaginings of classic Disney properties: bad. Yet mixing those two wrongs together somehow makes a right. Descendants is better, smarter, more original, more entertaining, and thematically deeper than nearly every live-action Disney remake (still stan hard for Branagh's Cinderella).
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Joker (I) (2019)
7/10
Joaquin Phoenix makes something out of basically nothing
11 October 2019
Every few months we get a film that causes a flurry of discussion that goes beyond what happens onscreen. Joker is one such example, people in equal measure praising the film for its boldness or artistic flair and deriding it for its supposed shallow cynicism and familiarity; that's all without going into the social responsibility of releasing a comic-book movie this darkly realistic in its violence. I find all these discussions enriching and even convincing on different levels, except for one: dismissing it as derivative. Phoenix as Joker essentially gives us an autobiography of his pre-crime lifestyle in expectedly unreliable fashion. What's to be believed about his own perception of his origins? That's never made super clear. What is clear is that Phoenix commands the camera's attention. At over 2 hours, the film gets a little too precious about each moment; plenty of demented laughing scenes and unnecessary expositing could've hit the cutting-room floor and we'd lose nothing. And in a better world, we'd get a proper Batman film with this Joker wreaking his particular form of havoc on the Dark Knight. Still, Phoenix holds rapt attention, giving us one of the darkest cinematic outings in years. But not only do I think the film is much too upsettingly effective and technically impressive to be written off, but I think director Phillips and star Phoenix are wearing their influences so firmly on their purple-suited-sleeves, calling it derivative is like calling Coke Zero derivative; that's partially the point. Sure, it's a pale homage to much better films (Scorsese comparisons are fully warranted), but maybe its refreshing brashness and wider reach to modern audiences will send people to the more soulful 70s and 80s films of its ilk.
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8/10
No amount of forced idealism can stop the natural human tendency toward greed.
9 October 2019
This is a beautiful, gruesome and naturalistic vision of the American west, a classic cowboy tale told through modern eyes...and a solely unique tone. The stand-out moments are characters reacting to the miraculous things we consider mundane (brushing teeth, flushing toilets), as they wonderfully characterize the country's transition, and so many men's futile fight against that progress.
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Abominable (I) (2019)
5/10
Smallfoot was better
4 October 2019
Abominable isn't abominable. Any review you read calling it that is just using a cheap critic's gimmick (use a product's name against itself) to make their review seem cleverer than it is. Yes, even I have stooped to that level; I'm only human. However, it's just plain untrue here. Not that Abominable is good; it's not. It exists in that boring land between bad and good, a supremely mediocre / middle-of-the-road animated kid's adventure that never tries hard enough to make an impact either positive or negative. In other words, it's a fairly standard DreamWorks Animation picture. You know the story: a child with family issues befriends a mythical creature, and through their adventures they learn better how to live their lives. Abominable has all the familiarities of the sub-genre, with an especially unabashed similarity to E.T., with the girl learning to say goodbye to her absent father through her new friend. Unlike that classic or other more successful child-monster friendship films, the central relationship is entirely too rushed, with our furry friend constantly displaying convenient powers and abilities, making the movie have neither intrigue nor stakes. The animation is unremarkable, the humor is predictable; it's all just plain basic. Even its positives are fairly passive. Some cool design elements here, a few cute jokes there, minor surprise character reveals. Notably, when the movie slows down and allows the main girl to just play her violin, there's a quiet elegance missing from the rest of the movie. I wish it leaned into that tone a little more, but in our modern cinematic world of loud noises and bright colors, Abominable desperately tries to standout and ironically gets lost in the crowd.
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1941 (1979)
1/10
Spielberg's only, and I mean ONLY, truly bad film.
4 October 2019
And because he's Spielberg, he doesn't do it half-assed...he makes it a next-level, no-holds-barred turd. It's ugly, over-stuffed, over-long, unbearably loud, obnoxious, and embarrassingly unfunny. Worst of all, Spielberg comes off as supremely self-pleased, clearly thinking each bit is gonna result in us bowling over with laughter. Thank God he eventually figured out how to tackle his feelings for WWII.
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8/10
Pyschedelic, Important, and Fun
3 October 2019
With "America", they pull off the impossible: a vibrant musical feat, that adeptly captures the immigrant sentiment without losing its sense of fun. That mixture really represents the whole film well. The script is smart and caring (and effectively sad), the music is astounding (other than the too-often boring slow romance songs), and Robbins and Wise's direction is beautiful and artful. The cast isn't great (some mediocre singing, Wood as Puerto Rican), but they hardly distract from the spectacle.
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The Terminal (2004)
7/10
Better Than You Remember...
3 October 2019
Look, the romance is bad & takes up too much time. Otherwise, I can't help but feel like our universal disdain for this breezy, inspirational dramedy upon initial release was largely because of its proximity to 9/11. Now it serves as a fascinating mirror to our current "crisis", keeping people we consider "unacceptable" prisoner while we decide what to do with them. Sure, its charm often dips its toe into cheese, but Hanks is so winning, funny, & empathetic, it's hard to deny the film's core humanity.
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3/10
18 Kids and Counting, starring Dharma and Greg.
30 September 2019
Yours, Mine and Ours is a lot like Fruit Stripe gum: it's sweet at first but quickly becomes bland and tiresome. Any movie that depends on Dennis Quaid to be gut-bustingly hilarious is in BIG trouble.
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Midsommar (I) (2019)
10/10
Mind-boggling brilliance from beginning to end.
30 September 2019
I've seen plenty of movies over the years that you could call an assault on the senses. Midsommar was an assault on my sanity. A terrifying "maybe I should've stayed home" art-film that is so consistently shocking I couldn't differentiate between being mortified and laughing in utter discomfort. Pugh is unbelievable, and is only overshadowed by Aster's otherworldly, fever-dream directing and brilliant editing.
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Moneyball (2011)
9/10
God bless this movie.
29 September 2019
It's as patient as a baseball game, and 100 times more engaging. For a movie so focused on numbers and sports analytics, it's incredibly soulful. Miller takes Sorkin's unsurprisingly clever dialogue and surrounds it with long shots of character's still faces, and beds the whole movie on beautifully atmospheric music. Pitt is equal parts unnervingly stoic and subtly impish, and his sudden outburst of anger are wonderful.
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Ad Astra (2019)
4/10
Bad Astra
27 September 2019
Ad Astra isn't your run-of-the-mill bad movie. It boasts a stellar cast of caring characters, led by Pitt in one of his best turns in years. The visuals are magnificent, representing another steppingstone in space-travel reality that's basically impeccable. Its baser elements of action and terror are surprising and exciting, as director Gray displays a real skill for knowing when to slow down and when to blast off. Unfortunately, all these numerous positives only serve to make it more frustrating. Its apparent potential is washed away by the magnitude of narrative annoyances and thematic insecurities. Pitt plays a veteran astronaut, sent on a mission to Neptune to stop his long-presumed-dead father from destroying all Earthly existence. Is his father alive? If so, is he really to blame? What exactly has he been hiding from all this time? These are compelling mysteries that the film sets up, before letting them putter to a boring and shockingly predictable end. In lieu of a compelling story arch, the film leans into its thematics, which are certainly compelling. With an intense spirituality to the visual storytelling, it argues for an appreciation of our everyday mundanities, especially if our search for bigger meaning gets in the way. It's a sci-fi space epic that believes love is humanity's ultimate purpose. That's all fine, except much like Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, Ad Astra takes away our desire and ability to read that subtext by obnoxiously and repeatedly spelling it out, including through some of the worst narration ever spewed. When it comes to a movie's "point", some artful hand-holding is fine (see Gravity), but a little more trust in the audience's intelligence would be nice.
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9/10
Easily my favorite Spielberg / Hanks Collab
26 September 2019
This is easily my favorite Hanks / Spielberg collaboration, & maybe the funniest film in Spielberg's history. A wonderfully written Christmas movie that perfectly encapsulates the disillusionment of material wealth in lieu of loving, familial connection. It's a more empathetic version of Spielberg's usual father-issues motif, though the child still struggles with his father's selfishly poor decisions. DiCaprio & Hanks are super good, but my MVP is Walken, turning in a performance as sad as it is charismatic.
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Free Solo (2018)
7/10
Good...BUT BETTER THAN MINDING THE GAP?????
23 September 2019
No part of this man or his insane, almost sociopathic obsession with danger is appealing to me in any way. Instead, my viewing is purely a morbid, absurd curiosity...and the movie doesn't disappoint in that area. As we build to the inevitable climb, watching him and others fall over and over builds the tension nicely, even if the psychological ending is super predictable. Honestly, death will probably be the only thing that finally satisfies this maniac.
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First Blood (1982)
8/10
Better Than It's Sequels Would Have You Believe
20 September 2019
The legend of Rambo has gotten a bit out-of-hand over the last 35 years. Because of the cultural reputation and the obnoxiously bombastic sequels, he's often seen as the manliest of men, an archetype of the sweaty, bulging action stars of the 80s and 90s. It's a strange transformation, given where this character started. Sure, First Blood has its share of bad-to-the-bone bloody action. However, I think we forget that the movie ends with our hero breaking down on the floor of a police station, decrying the horrors of Vietnam and our treatment of those soldiers as they return home. We forget that this first Rambo is a well-directed, deeply soulful and honest post-war study that's as caring as it is thrilling. Stallone's career has largely been defined by two characters: Rambo and Rocky, with the latter being the one he is most praised for and serves as proof he can do more than just throw a punch and shoot a machine gun. However, his turn as migrant war veteran John Rambo is as subtle and heartbreakingly unhinged as you could want. Sure, you get the marquee moments of Rambo rigging R-rated-Kevin-McAlister type traps in the woods, but mostly you're watching a broken man learning how to live in a broken country, neither of whom recognize one another anymore. It's a powerful statement on the psychological effects of war, made even more powerful because of it's seeming unlikely placement in a movie that promises (and often delivers on) macho action violence. First Blood is a thoughtful and gripping little adventure tale, that's easily the 2nd best 80s Christmas action movie; Mr. McClain is a tough guy to bring down.
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ParaNorman (2012)
9/10
This very well may be my favorite Laika movie.
16 September 2019
It may not be as beautiful as Coraline or as moving as Kubo, but it's probably the most perfectly synergistic mixture of story-based humor, introductory horror, incredible thematic heft (LGBTQ, reactive negativity), and unbelievable animation. All the characters are so wonderfully thought out; Norman is who I wish I was as a kid, but honestly....Neil is my spirit animal.
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6/10
Struggling with this review...
13 September 2019
It was a cool, confident 80's-style throwback, whose strong visuals and rare timbre made it a standout among the lame high-concept, overly dark excuses for terror we normally get. My enjoyment led to reading the novel, and I'm glad I did. Not only because it's great, but because I think I would be emotionally lost by Chapter Two otherwise. While it certainly hasn't lost any of the boldness of the first film, much of the actual storytelling skill and tonal control has been lost under an effort to shove 6+ hrs of story into 3. What we're left with is ultimately not a very "good" movie, but one with enough sincerity and fantastic individual moments that it's sloppiness can almost be overlooked. We find The Losers all grown up, returning to Derry when their clown-friend begins wreaking havoc again. Despite perfect physical casting, the chemistry among these grown up performers comes nowhere near the endearing heights of the younger cast. When the kids return, it serves as a cheap but effective reminder of why we love these characters. The gentle naivete and fear of a young outcast teen proves to be paramount to the success of the horror, so this sequel seems to choose to either move away from scares altogether, or it falters. Instead its strengths lie in individual scenes and unique themes. The Losers must relive their traumatic pasts, which not only provides the best 45 minutes of the movie, but beautifully and tenderly speaks to the effect childhood has on identity and engrained fear. It's a brave movie, even if kind of a "bad" one, which is a combo I prefer to safe (boring) "good" movies.
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Halloween II (2009)
2/10
Just Another Bad Michael Myers Sequel...
11 September 2019
I really can't figure out what Zombie's point is with these. By showing us Myers' past, he seems to be trying to make him more empathetic and understandable...except his Michael is by far the most brutally violent and mean-spirited of the entire franchise. The first Zombie outing is bad, but this one is oppressive, utterly joyless, and seems to completely misunderstand what we want from this franchise.
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5/10
Imperfect Doc
10 September 2019
For me, the most important part of a documentary is usually its subject and the filmmakers' access to that subject. This movie goes a long way to disproving that stance, as no matter how interesting this guy is or how crazy his stories are, the film can't help but make way too many bad decisions (padded out narration, random side stories, nonsensical editing choices).
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