Movie Diary 12/30/2018

Catching up at the end.

Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018). Wonderful observations throughout, terrific lead performance, seemingly effortless swings through comedy and drama. Manages to be “of its era” without making a fuss about it. Refreshing tendency to leave some things unexplained.

The Old Man & the Gun (David Lowery, 2018). Not being a fan of this director, I was pleasantly surprised by the easy feel and grainy texture of this one. The nagging doubt is an almost complete absence of consequences regarding the old man’s chosen profession (robbing banks with a gun); the film is too intent on creating a feel-good milieu for that. Redford coasts a little, but then he’s Redford; his scenes with Sissy Spacek are full of pleasing rhythms. High point, though, is when Redford’s cheeky thief crosses paths with Casey Affleck’s shuffling detective, a lovely passage that forgets the story for a moment and goes for sheer delight.

Mid-90s (Jonah Hill, 2018). Another good surprise, a clear-eyed view of skateboards and adolescence. The title is unfortunate, as it pretends to some generational statement rather than the granular street-level portrait we actually get.

Private Life (Tamara Jenkins, 2018). Some people still want to make Woody Allen movies, as proved by this story of a couple (Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti) desperate to conceive. The performance from the usually inspired Hahn could almost have come out of an Allen film, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Bird Box (Susanne Bier, 2018). People can’t look at the monsters, or they go crazy. One could make this premise work, but maybe only in a novel. I think Sandra Bullock is trying to do something with her performance, but it’s hard to tell in the overall hard-breathing.

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Sex Vice (This Week’s Movies)

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Felicity Jones: On the Basis of Sex (courtesy Focus Features)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Vice. “The Big Short worked because it had a big target — the 2008 financial collapse — and relentless satirical bite. Vice is all over the place, as though changing its mind every few minutes.”

On the Basis of Sex. “It’s too bad the movie paints the opposing lawyers as such single-note chauvinist pigs in order to pump up the drama, because the case itself is engrossing.”

Second Aqua Poppins (This Week’s Movies)

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Emily Blunt: Mary Poppins Returns (courtesy Walt Disney Studios)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Mary Poppins Returns. “Crisply executed and refreshingly old-fashioned.” (Herald link here.)

Aquaman. “There aren’t enough drumming octopi to make this movie memorable, an observation I thought I’d never have to make.” (Herald link here.)

Second Act. “An excellent commercial for J. Lo’s upcoming beauty-care line.”

My Seasoned Ticket post for the Scarecrow Video blog is an interview I did with Viggo Mortensen in 2004; a thoughtful fellow he was, and not at all the loudmouth lout you meet in Green Book (a terrific performance, as it happens). Read that here.

Movie Diary 12/19/2018

Aquaman (James Wan, 2018). Gigantic mechanism with a series of wacky touches; the tonal inconsistencies are a little hard to forgive with a project this huge. Wan aims for the spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the thing has the uncanny aroma of a mid-80s Raiders knock-off (looking at you, Jake Speed).

Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018). A classic sci-fi premise given a smart treatment by the director of Ex Machina, featuring a committed performance by Natalie Portman. The movie keeps hinting around at ambitions of the Tarkovsky variety, but doesn’t really have the reach for that. It looks and sounds extremely cool, though.

The Hate U Give (George Tillman, Jr., 2018). An overstuffed collection of hot-button issues, some of them compellingly dramatized – but the effects gets lost in the torrent of expositional and educational talk talk talk, which extends the film to an unwieldy 133 minutes. Admirable performances by Russell Hornsby and Amandla Stenberg.

Movie Diary 12/17/2018

Mary Poppins Returns (Rob Marshall, 2018). Almost defiantly old-fashioned – a little blast of the English music hall, completely out of time and very welcome. Also notable as a Rob Marshall film that’s bearable. Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda (a curious, smiling plastic-toy presence) are both fully committed to the film’s world. The only thing I really miss is the minor-key dark breeze of “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” (full review 12/19)

Movie Diary 12/16/2018

Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley, 2018). Alternate-reality nuttiness that manages to have at least one daft thing going on every three minutes or so. Some of the stuff is channeled from other sources (it would seem Riley is a fan of O Lucky Man), but it’s brought off with a lot of kick. (As you can see, I’m catching up with 2018 movies I missed along the way.)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller, 2018). This is a fascinating true story, but the insightful thing Heller does – she directed the terrific Diary of a Teenage Girl – is emphasize that this is a film about loneliness and the prison of personality, rather than a plot-driven thing. Melissa McCarthy is excellent as the author Lee Israel, who forged letters from famous people, and Richard E. Grant is great fun as her unexpected drinking buddy. But the smaller roles are also spot-on, a sign of the director’s care: Dolly Wells, Stephen Spinella, Jane Curtain.

The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard, 2018). The Old West feels decidedly European in Audiard’s version of the mythology, with John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as bounty-hunting siblings and Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed as their quarry. Reilly’s gentle killer is a real original, and the film’s thoughtful manner stays with you. I think this is another of those genre-associated roles that Phoenix doesn’t seem to get, but he has his moments. It begins with some startling Western imagery, including gunshots at night and the shocking sight of a galloping horse on fire.

Mortal Queen-Verse (This Week’s Movies)

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Saoirse Ronan: Mary Queen of Scots (Liam Daniel/Focus Features)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly.

Mary Queen of Scots. “As anything other than an actors’ showcase, this Mary has a tendency to plod along.”

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. “If somehow those jokes could have been squeezed into a 90-minute package instead of a 117-minute feature, maybe Spider-Verse would have more zip.”

Mortal Engines. “There’s a lot to look at here, but not much to think about. The story beats are so broad and the characters so bland that this movie wears you out well before the big finish, despite the quirky touches.”

For Scarecrow Video’s blog, I contribute a Seasoned Ticket entry that includes something on Clint Eastwood (alas, I haven’t seen The Mule yet, not screened locally for critics) and Sondra Locke. Read it here.