Underwater

This movie just jumps right into the action with minimal intro, so I’ll do the same with the write up (mostly cause breakfast is waiting for me when I’m done, then laser tag). Kristen Stewart is in deep–deep underwater. For some unknown (and mostly unimportant) reason, she works on a type of base that’s been set up on the deepest part of the ocean floor. Now the base is suddenly breaking apart, and she’s gotta find her way back to safety at the surface. And now, she can’t just take a swim.

So technically this film does take place deep underwater (oh, I get it now) but it felt like any disaster on a spaceship movie (Alien(s), Life, Sunshine, Gravity, and other single word titles). Basically it’s people wandering around an uninhabitable environment, confined to man made structures and faulty suits. The major difference being that since they were deep in the depths, you couldn’t always see clearly thru the murky water. Otherwise, if you hadn’t mentioned the water at all, I woulda guessed we were in a galaxy far away.

Does it sound like I’m not highlighting anything original? Cause there really wasn’t much to highlight. There was some suspense, but I just didn’t care. I wasn’t invested in the characters or the situation. In other words, there were no stakes for me. I’d zone out for a bit then return and yup we’re still underwater trying to get somewhere. Oh it’s been a while since someone died. Hmm, that one’s next. And yup they’re dead. Allow me to return to my Chris Evans fantasy in my head (no, he’s not in this).

For a January graveyard, if you’ve caught up on all the Oscar movies, you could do worse than this. But you could also do so much better.

Underwater – \m/ \m/ \n

Just Mercy

First movie of 2020.

We get a movie like this every year or so maybe. Someone is wrongfully accused of a crime and a lawyer with morals and conviction works hard for their freedom. Inspiration porn in the legal system. Pretty cookie cutter. But the reason so many of these cookies have been cut is that they can be very powerful. These people have stories worth telling, and they call for change that we absolutely need. This was another cookie.

The lawyer is Michael B Jordan, fresh outta law school with one goal in mind: get people off death row. The client is Jamie Foxx, convicted of killing a young white girl in Alabama even though the evidence to exonerate him is insurmountable. Throw in Brie Larson as Jordan’s partner, and here’s our movie.

It was basically what you’d expect. Nothing more, nothing less. Doesn’t make it any less powerful or the story less worthy. The lawyer, Bryan Stevensen, is a figure we should know. This man is doing God’s work. This is also possibly Jordan’s best work since Fruitvale Station. But at the end of the day, it’s still another courtroom drama to throw on the pile

Just Mercy – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

2019 Recap

Well I sure procrastinated this year’s recap. Let’s not waste anytime and just go straight to the full list

On the Basis of Sex If Beale Street Could Talk Escape Room Free Solo The Upside Bohemian Rhapsody sing along Glass A Star is Born Donnie Darko Serenity At Eternity’s Gate Cold War The Wife Cold Pursuit What Men Want The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Alita: Battle Angel Isn’t It Romantic Happy Death Day 2 U How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World The Favourite Bohemian Rhapsody Black Panther Green Book Vice A Star is Born BlackKkKlansman Fighting With My Family Greta Captain Marvel Apollo 11 Gloria Bell Captive State Us Shazam The Beach Bum Dumbo Pet Sematary The Best of Enemies The Man Who Killed Don Quixote Hellboy Hotel Mumbai The Curse of La Llorona High Life Avengers: Endgame Her Smell Hail Satan? Long Shot Tolkien Detective Pikachu The Hustle John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum Avengers: Endgame Brightburn Aladdin Booksmart Jurassic Park Rocketman Godzilla: King of the Monsters Dark Phoenix The Secret Life of Pets 2 Men in Black International The Dead Don’t Die Late Night Toy Story 4 Child’s Play Yesterday Spider-Man: Far From Home Avengers: Endgame Midsommar Stuber Crawl The Farewell The Art of Self Defense The Lion King Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Hobbs and Shaw The Room Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Dora and the Lost City of Gold The Kitchen Good Boys Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Ready or Not The Great Escape Blinded By the Light The Thing The Matrix Mad Max The Road Warrior Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome The Peanut Butter Falcon IT: Chapter Two Brittany Runs a Marathon Hustlers Hedwig and the Angry Inch The Goldfinch Ad Astra First Blood First Blood II Rambo III Rambo Rambo: Last Blood Judy The Shining Joker Parasite Gemini Man El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie Dracula (1931) Jexi Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Zombieland: Double Tap Saw JoJo Rabbit The Current War The Lighthouse Honey Boy Motherless Brooklyn Terminator: Dark Fate Harriet Doctor Sleep Last Christmas The Irishman Playing With Fire Ford v Ferrarri Charlie’s Angels The Good Liar Knives Out A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Frozen II Queen & Slim 21 Bridges Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Waves Dark Waters Bombshell Uncut Gems Black Christmas Richard Jewell 1917 Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Jumanji: The Next Level Cats Spies in Disguise Little Women

Crunching the numbers, that gives us the following totals:
148 movies watched minus 20 Specials minus 13 repeats equals 115 distinct new movies.

You’ll notice these numbers are lower than last year ( 162 movies watched minus 6 specials minus 20 repeats, equals 136 distinct new movies in 2018. ) That was kinda on purpose. For 2019, I didn’t wanna have any arbitrary quotas to meet that made me feel pressured to go to the movies. And I didn’t wanna feel forced to watch anything I wasn’t into or make myself get outta the house if I’d rather sit on the couch doing crochet. There were still ones I shoulda sat out, but I gave myself permission to skip things, and it was overall better for my mental health. Oh and part of why they’re still high is because I had 4 marathons this year (Best Picture Showcase, Mad Max, Rambo, and LOTR…even if I didn’t stay thru ROTK)

Let’s look at some other totals

Star ratings (out of 4):
4- 39
3.5- 28
3- 26
2.5- 10
2- 14
1.5- 5
1- 0
Overall stronger numbers than last year. Partly due to my skipping ones that woulda likely ended up in the bottom, and partly due to the fact that 2019 was DAMN GOOD YEAR

Looking at locations next in alpha order
Aero Theater – 4
Alamo Drafthouse DTLA – 9
Alamo Drafthouse Laredo – 3
AMC Broadway Santa Monica – 1
AMC Century City – 46
AMC Chicago Dine In – 1
AMC Empire 25 NYC – 1
AMC Marina Classic – 12
AMC Marina Dine In – 28
AMC Orange – 7
AMC River East Chicago – 2
AMC Universal City Walk – 2
Arclight Culver City – 2
Arclight Hollywood – 5
Cinemark Howard Hughes – 3
Cinemark Playa Vista – 1
Egyptian – 2
Hollywood Theaters Laredo – 1
Laemmle Monica – 2
The Landmark – 5
Million Dollar Theater – 1
New Beverly Cinema – 1
Nuart Landmark – 3
NYC AMC Lincoln Center – 2
NYC AMC Village – 1
Old Town Music Hall – 1
Regent Landmark – 1
Vista theater – 1
No surprise that AMC dominates because of A list. Century City cause I usually go straight from work. And if my quick counting is correct, 4 in Laredo over Christmas , and 3 each in Chicago and NYC

Movies by Month
Jan – 12
Feb – 15
Mar – 10
Apr – 10
May – 10
Jun – 9
Jul – 10
Aug – 15
Sep – 13
Oct – 14
Nov – 17
Dec – 12
Last year I was actively trying to do 10 a month. This year, I was not making an effort to, yet still made it most months. The marathons helped those counts for sure

Okay onto the fun stuff. The lists

Bottom Five Least Favorites

5-Black Christmas – Really this could have been in contention for the top (bottom) spot since it was the one movie on here I’ll flat out say was bad instead of just not to my taste. But the first half or so was watchable. However, once it devolved, there was no saving the experience
4-At Eternity’s Gate – Movies like this are why I hate doing bottom 5’s. It wasn’t bad. It was artful and gorgeous to look at. It just wasn’t my style. So while I recognize the quality, I simply didn’t enjoy it
3-High Life – This was harder to buy into the artistic aspect of it, and I found it even more boring (for me personally). Interesting concept, and RPatz is a great actor, but I just couldn’t do it.
2-The Beach Bum – Oh boy where to start with this one. Boring and weird and self serving and just a total misfire, despite a great cast. And it certainly didn’t help that I found our lead bum annoying at best.
1-Captive State -“Which movie?” I said to myself as I reviewed my list sorted by rating. “Oh that one where nothing at all happened and I took a nap out of sheet boredom. Right”
Dishonorable Mentions: The Lighthouse, The Curse of La Llorona, Godzilla: Gods and Monsters

Top Ten Favorites

Special Honorable Mention – Knives Out – Soooo I messed up. When I first put together my top ten, this was the last movie that I cut. It just didn’t make it. I hadn’t written out this post, but I started counting down on Stardust. Then I went for a second helping and it was even better than I remembered. This really should have made the official list (prolly around halfway up) but it was too late. And here we are.
Honorable Mention – 1917 – I’d purposely left only one honorable mention partly because as I culled the list I had 11 that I needed, but mostly because there’s one technically 2018 movie on here. I don’t think I stated it yet on this post, but I do define my year based on when I see a movie, not when it’s released. So just substitute this if you don’t like how I play.
10-Doctor Sleep – I couldn’t bring myself to cut this movie because for a week or so after watching it I was asserting that it was likely to make my list. I’m a huge King fan, and even though I haven’t read this one (yet! I start it on Mon) I felt like it nailed the spirit of his work.
9-Fighting With My Family – Early on this year, I was trying to pick a fave movie for each month. This easily won January (or was it Feb). Throughout the year, when I’d think of my fave movies, this always came to mind and always made me smile. Nothing pleases a crowd like an underdog sports movie, and if it gets you interested in the sport (even if it’s just until the credits roll) you know it’s done its job
8-Hail Satan? – I went to see this because I thought it’d be funny. And it was. But it was also the one movie that gave me more to think about than anything else I saw this year. It challenged so many ideas I’ve struggled with and showed me a new perspective I’d never considered before
7-Free Solo – Yes the technicality. I saw it in January so it counts. Also, another documentary? Who have I become? But this didn’t feel like a doc. It was more intense than any action film I saw this year, and even more than most of the thrillers.
6-Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Hi, yes Tarantino fan girl here. I saw this three times. First to take it all in. Second to piece it together. And third to just sit back and enjoy it. That third time was at Tarantino’s own New Beverly Cinema, which was such a special experience. It’s simultaneously the most AND least Tarantino movie ever, and I loved it
5-Honey Boy – Movies that make this list are the ones that stay with me the longest, and I could not shake this one for weeks. Every time I talked about it, I said that it was such a personal film, it felt like I shouldn’t be watching. But I’m so grateful that Shia LaBeouf was willing to invite us in to experience this truly beautiful film.
4-The Farewell – Any other year, this would have easily been my favorite. It’s such a win for diversity and inclusion, because this is a story I would have never heard in a million years if Hollywood hadn’t been taking baby steps in that direction. This film made me cry almost as much as it made me laugh.
3-Avengers: Endgame – It’s rare that a super movie makes my list, but it took this one for me to realize just how much I truly love this franchise. I’ve been with it from the beginning, and what the MCU did here was unprecedented. Saw this 4 times and would gladly have seen it more because every second of it’s crazy runtime was fantastic
2-Parasite – If you’ve made it this far in this post, you know I see A LOT of movies. So when I say I’ve NEVER seen anything like this, you know how much weight that carries. And that from one minute to the next I had no idea what was going to happen is huge. This is probably the best movie of the year, and was this close to the top spot
1-Jojo Rabbit – Two reasons Jojo won out. One, is that it too is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I love the quirkiness of it, and it’s just weird enough to work. It shouldn’t work, but it does so beautifully. But the main reason it wins is because I am a very emotional creature and this is a very emotional film. It completely put me thru the ringer. I went from happy to angry to devastated to every other possible feeling I could feel. But when I left, I felt uplifted and full of hope and joy. That’s what’s most important.
Almost made it: Us, Ford v Ferrari, Uncut Gems, Rocketman

And we are done! Again, not setting any goals this year. Just gonna enjoy my time at the movies. Hope you’ll join me on my journey

Little Women

When I was a kid, I never went anywhere without a book. I mean, technically I still don’t because I’ve always got my Kindle in my bag, but as a kid I was actually pulling out those books and reading them everywhere. I can’t even put a number on how many chapters and pages and such I read. So of course, I got made fun of for it. We’d go to the Library every week, and I’d be exchanging one stack of books for another. Maybe one other kid would exchange one book they’d been carrying around for two months. There was only a small selection of children’s novels we could choose from. The largest book on the shelf (by a lot) was Little Women. “Oh you should read that one!” the kids would say to make fun of me. I don’t know why it was funny, but I guess they just thought I couldn’t do it, or something. So I did. I checked it out, read it, returned it soon after, and absolutely loved it. A year or two later, there was a program implemented where you’d take a test after reading a book and earn points for prizes. Guess what book was worth the most points? Yup, read it again, earned 36 points (as opposed to the 2 or 3 pointers that most others tackled). In junior high, the program came back, but counted towards your grade. Uh huh, another 36 points for me. I recently found it was free on Kindle so I’ve been rereading it for the first time in maybe 20 years. Still love it.

I actually was a tad apprehensive about this adaptation. It gets done so often ( wasn’t there a recent one with Maya Hawke?) Also, the ’94 Winona Ryder version is absolutely perfect. What could we possibly add to it? An A+ cast, maybe? But when you have such a strong list of names (Saoirse Ronan, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, Meryl freaking Streep) there’s no room to be wowed. You know it’s gonna be amazing, and anything slightly below that insanely high bar is a disappointment. Turns out there is a bit of room to shake things up and give us a new take, but more on that in a second.

First of all, a word about the screening I went to. It was my last day back home in Texas. I have a Stardust friend in the general area who drove down to watch it with me. We chose the “afternoon tea” screening, which was the cutest thing. Three different servings of tea were given at key points in the film (supposedly key points, IDK that they really lined up) and there were traditional tea time snacks. Soda bread with fancy butter, cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwiches, strawberry cake and ice cream. Seriously, so cute. Anyways, on with the movie.

In case you’re not familiar with Little Women, it follows the four March sisters in Civil War era New England. We spend a year with the teenage girls as their father is off fighting the war, then we jump ahead a bit and see them beginning their lives as adults. Eldest Meg (Emma Watson) dreams of love and a little family. Youngest Amy (Florence Pugh) wishes to join high society. Next youngest Beth (Eliza Scanlon) is a quiet thing with a passion for music. And second eldest Jo (Saoirse Ronan), is our protagonist. An absolute tomboy who shrugs off the rules and dreams of being a writer.

The film was absolutely delightful. The first thing that stood out to me was that writer director Greta Gerwig took a nonlinear approach to the storytelling. I really liked it. Even in rereading the novel now, it feels very loosely tied together and we move from episode to episode. The way Gerwig wove bits of each period in the girls’ lives together made it feel much more coherent. I also appreciated that there were scenes that didn’t make the cut in ’94. Meg buying the expensive fabric, Beth playing piano for Mr Lawrence, more showcases for characters other than Jo (I think ’94 gave a lot of time to her storyline with Frederich). I loved rediscovering these scenes on screen, especially since they were so fresh from reading the book.

The cast of course was up to the task. Even if the characters only age a few years, you could always tell from how the women portrayed themselves where we were in the story. Espeically Florence Pugh. Now I’m still not sure that I buy that she was 12 years old (which is where Amy starts) but it was always absolutely clear if we were dealing with preteen Amy or young woman of society Amy based on how she carried herself.

The whole film had this feeling of warm and cozy chaos. It felt like you were looking in on a real family full of love and happiness. It was simply a delightful afternoon, sipping my tea, and spending time with the March sisters.

Little Women – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Spies in Disguise

I only went to this movie to get outta the house for a couple hours. I’d been in Texas for a week, with only a couple days to go. As much as I loved sitting on the couch with Mom’s dog and my crochet, I could only take so much (esp when Mom was always hovering and talking nonstop). But since I’ve been on top of the new releases (including some early screenings back in LA) Spies in Disguise was really my only option. I’d sworn off seeing animated films just for the voice cast, and didn’t have too much interest, but I really wanted a milkshake from Drafthouse. In retrospect, I prolly coulda just gotten a milkshake elsewhere and brought it back to the couch.

Will Smith voices an animated Idris Elba as James Bond type of character who’s gotten himself into some trouble (really it’s cause of a dude with a robo arm that can make himself look like animated agent sexy). His only hope is a dweeby little techie idealist voiced by Tom Holland. Basic enough, yeah? Oh and did I mention that science nerd accidentally turns our super spy into a pigeon?

The whole thing was straightup kids stuff as expected. No meta humor like Lego or deeply emotional story like Pixar. Just something to keep the muchkins busy for two hours (I guess by this definition, I counted as a munchkin for the day). I didn’t find it particularly funny or clever, and except for really liking Holland’s character, I didn’t connect with the film. And that’s okay. This movie wasn’t made for me. It was made for the group of little ones sitting on the other end of the row that were laughing the entire time. It clearly has their approval. It doesn’t need mine.

Spies in Disguise – \m/ \m/

Cats

In the near decade of Christmases that it’s been just me and Mom, we’ve settled into one new tradition for ourselves. Christmas Eve, which is typically the bigger celebratory night in Mexican culture, we’ll venture out to the movies. It’s typically dead (again, bigger celebratory night). We’ll catch one of the last shows (which is in the 7:00 hour, they don’t even bother scheduling later). Because my inclinations towards the theatric comes from Mom, we’ll usually pick whatever musical is released that year. There’s always one at Christmas. Into the Woods, The Greatest Showman, Mary Poppins Returns. Pretty obvious pick for us. Well, this year, that pick was Cats. I was gonna see it either way, but I tried dissuading her from it. “It’s weird, there’s no plot, the special effects look strange”. But she knows the movies are my happy place, and before being subjected to a day full of extended family I barely know on Christmas Day, she insisted we still go out. And I’d already seen every other film playing at the local theaters (and even some that wouldn’t be out until the next few days). It’s no surprise that we were the only ones in the auditorium at 7:45 on Christmas Eve in Laredo Texas.

This adaptation was inevitable. Every year we get a new Broadway adaptation on film, and Cats is one of the most ubiquitous. It had a historically long run on the Great White Way, and it’s a staple of high school theatres. I’ve personally avoided it. Mostly because I like my musicals to have plot, and I know this one doesn’t. But I knew I’d see it at some point. My theory is that because this is so well known, we’re basically just getting it out of the way. People were always going to ask when it would be adapted. And even if it went full animation (as it prolly should have), people would still ask for a live action one. Because people are weird. So this was given to us, hopefully to be lost behind the hype of the new Star Wars, and every other incredible film we got this year, and then the subject could be dropped. Heh. Right.

As I said, there’s no real plot. A cat is abandoned in an alley and finds a group of similar felines. Tonight is a big night for them, it’s the Jellicle Ball (they’re apparently all Jellicle Cats, as they sing about for 8 minutes) which is when Old Deuteronomy (Dame Judi Dench) will choose one cat in order to ascend to heaven or something. She chooses the cat based on their performance of a special song, unique to each of them. So in other words, it’s just an excuse for a bunch of different characters to sing about themselves in a totally nonsensical way. That varied cast of cats is why it’s so popular in high schools, because it can give many actors their own opportunity to shine. I assume it works well on stage, but it’s kinda weird on screen. At one point, Mom even turns to me and whispers “Are they all gonna just sing one at a time?” “Yup.”

Right so no real plot, very weird CGI with animated animal bodies and human faces. I’d been trying to explain this to an elderly friend of the family who was excited to see it. “Yeah the animation’s really weird” “But the makeup they do is so good, I want to see that” “It’s not makeup, it’s special effects” “I love the makeup!” “Ok, boomer”.

One of the reasons I love going to the movies alone is I don’t want to feel resonsible for whether or not my companion(s) enjoy it. I was on edge the first 15 min or so, wondering what Mom would say. The first number is kinda strange and drawn out, and it only gets slightly better from there. I heard some chuckles next to me. Then I heard what sounded like snoring. “Oh even better, she’ll sleep thru it” I thought. That was shortlived. But about 20 min in or so, while Victoria is twirling across the screen, I hear “I like her, she’s so cute”. And I breathed a sigh of relief.

Because here’s the thing, as I said, mom and I are theatre people. Once I realized she was going to be okay, I opted to imagine I was watching this on stage. I overlooked the weird animation and pictured what it’d look like with Broadway makeup. I let myself enjoy the music (hello Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber), and even moreso, the dancing. I hadn’t expected the beautiful ballet (“She’s so graceful!” Mom would later exclaim) and clever choreography. That’s what I chose to focus on.

Also, can we take a moment to appreciate Sir Ian McKellan. Yes, he’s in this, and he is absolutely the most committed kitty in the film. You would think he was performing Shakespeare, the way he embraced the role, and I love him for it. Other standouts include our newbie leading kitty Francesca Hayword, who I later learned was in the London Ballet (which makes total sense once you see her movement). Even covered in fur and whiskers, Jennifer Hudson can give me chills with her singing. I also liked Taylor Swift, mostly because I liked her song. I think if I were to be a Cat, I’d wanna be either Taylor’s Bombalurina, or mischievious twin Rumpleteaser. Those two numbers were highlights for me.

Look, I absolutely get the vitriol and confusion this film is getting. I am 100% in the minority of those that legitimately enjoyed this film (Mom is another part of that minority), but I don’t think this really should have been aimed at the masses. This is for a niche audience of theatre going folk who get what the film is going for. To everyone else, it’s an acid trip. Hell, it was hella trippy for me too, I just knew how to look past it.

Cats – \m/ \m/ \m/

Jumanji: The Next Level

First movie escape of the holiday season while down in Texas. I could not get myself down to Alamo Drafthouse soon enough to take a break from being home. This adventure would be a trip to Jumanji.

The first time we encountered Jumanji, it was a board game that inhabited the real world. The next time, it was a video game that some unwitting teenagers were sucked into. Now, it’s again a video game, but there’s more people and more characters and the game’s kinda broken. But it’s still the same thing. Survive the world, do a thing, scream “Jumanji”, back to reality.

With any sequel, your challenge is to make it feel fresh and new while still retaining what worked the first time around. Two things that they used to differentiate this film: glitchy game and more characters. The former worked fairly well, the latter no so much. It just got kinda weird that there were so many people (and a horse) and even a little confusing at times. We’d gotten used to certain avatars being specific characters and now they weren’t. Plus The Rock couldn’t quite pull off a Danny DeVito accent. It just didn’t work for me. I was inexplicably bored, and just could not get into this film (even though I was loving the pineapple fizz I was drinking)

What did work were the moments that mirrored those I loved the first time: namely when Jack Black and/or Karen Gillan were stealing the show. Gillian carried the first half as her character was the one taking charge in the jungle, and Black stole the second half after a much necessary course correction (Gillan leading was not the course that needed correcting).

It kills me to say, but this is the ultimate definition of an unnecessary sequel. It felt exactly the same, but the best parts were the ones most like the original. Why were we back in the Jungle? I will say there’s a mid-credit scene that teases a third installment that would be a different take. That’s prolly the movie we shoulda gotten here.

Jumanji: The Next Level – \m/ \m/

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I’ve noticed that recently my excitement for Star Wars has waned. Between oversaturation and toxic fandom, it’s just harder to get really hyped up for it. Even Galaxy’s Edge turned out to be underwhelming for me. I kept on forgetting that Rise of Skywalker was coming out, the big conclusion to the current incarnation of the Wars. Compare that to Endgame where I was on pins and needles for a week, scared of any spoilers, training my bladder for the 3+ hour runtime, and generally unable to think about anything else. I hadn’t even planned on getting advanced SW tickets, was just gonna wing it week of with A list, except a friend had an extra ticket with his crew. Having seen it now, I think my enthusiasm levels were appropriate.

Right so resistance is fighting the bad guys, Kylo Ren is ascending up the evil ranks, Rey is becoming stronger in the force. There’s questions to be answered, light saber duels to be fought, space craft to blow up, and threads of Rian Johnson’s previoius installment to destroy. I found it all rather underwhelming.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it. There are some very happy surprises (cameos and throwbacks and easter eggs). I really do love Kylo’s arc. C3PO had some great show stealing moments. Rey is still one of the most badass characters in the galaxy. It just wasn’t the explosive finale I’d hoped for. Things were wrapped up all too neatly, without anything too unexpected. It was fun, just not very satisfying. Then again, that’s pretty much par for the course with me lately with this franchise.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – \m/ \m/ \m/

1917

I don’t typically care too much for war films. They just all kinda blur together without something truly special to differentiate themselves. Thinking about the few that I do love (Saving Private Ryan, The Hurt Locker, the first half of Full Metal Jacket), it’s usually some strong character work or other connection that brings me in. But there are so many classics new and old (Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Dunkirk) that I just could not get into. I skipped the recent Midway with zero intention of ever seeing it. 1917 was only on my radar because it was coming up in awards conversations. Then a friend saw it and was excitedly exclaiming how it was one of the best movies of the year. The two of us are in agreement that this has been a very strong year, so that’s a bold statement. I was skeptical until he mentioned that the film was made to look like a single take (a la Birdman). We have our differentiator!

Yes 1917 is a WWI movie, but it’s such a micro story that it doesn’t feel like those sweeping epic war films that make my eyes glaze over. This focuses on two soldiers who are given a mission to cross enemy lines and deliver a message to a nearby company. It plays out in semi-real time, and yes, all looks like one continuous shot. Once the men are given their orders, the film takes off like a shot and it is non stop. If you haven’t seen a trailer yet, DON’T. I went in pretty cold and was on the edge of my seat the whole time, no idea what was gonna happen (said friend told me they could get some plot points based on the trailer). This was tension at its best.

From a technical standpoint, this probably is the best film this year. The filmmaking is absolutely masterful (as you would expect from director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins). Each shot lasted about 6 minutes, seamlessly editing into the next, following the men thru tight trenches or open expanses under enemy fire. It’s mind blowing what they accomplished, and I spent half the film just wondering how they did it and trying to find where the few cuts were. I was lucky enough to catch this at an early screening where Mendes and Deakins were in attendance (along with editor Lee Smith) for a Q&A following. They were talking about all the work and planning that went into shooting and how they put it all together, it was amazing.

There’s a few big names in the cast: Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Hot Priest. Just know they’re only in one scene each. You really think someone in demand like them can commit to months and months of rehearsal and planning? But our two leads George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are astounding. If you’re like me, you’ll prolly spend much of the movie scratching your heads about where you’ve seen them before. Because you almost certainly have. And after 1917, you’ll know their names too.

1917 – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Richard Jewell

In I, Tonya, there was a dude who stole a few scenes of the film as this really inept criminal. There was something about him. More than just ineptitude, but some depth lurking. The next year came BlacKkKlansman, and there he was again. Slightly bigger role. Same wheelhouse. Same hint at layers. Fast forward another year, and I spot him in a trailer, and he’s made a lead role out of this niche of his. The film is Richard Jewell and that actor is Paul Walter Hauser.

As you may know Richard Jewell was a security guard in Atlanta around the 1996 Olympics, and he discovered a bomb that was placed in the crowd. Because of his actions, the casualties were greatly reduced and many lives were saved. Unfortunately, he also fit the bomber profile all too well, and he became the target of the FBI investigation. This film follows him through that journey.

While the film was starting, I began to get very uncomfortable and anxious. This film was going to be very loaded, diving into some charged topics. The attacks against Jewell’s name were perpetrated by law enforcement and the media, so I didn’t know what the messaging around that was going to be. What was this film trying to say? Would it be something I wanted to hear? I calmed myself by focusing on the performances because ultimately, this is an actors’ film.

Sam Rockwell plays Jewell’s attorney. I’ve long loved him, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen him play a nice guy. I enjoyed every second he was on screen, but the true treasure was Kathy Bates as Jewell’s mom. She gave possibly the strongest performance in a film full of strong performances, and she reminded us that she’s still here and she’s still amazing.

And what of the man himself? He could more than hold his own against those Oscar winners. He took that niche he carved out and transformed it into a leading role, and he was more than capable of carrying the film. When a film is in Awards talk, I like for performances to have that moment or that scene that you could point to and say THAT’s where they won it. He had two or three of those moments.

My biggest gripe was that I did not like Olivia Wilde’s journalist character at all. Not just in the sense of she’s the villain so we don’t like her, but I cringed every time she was on screen. She actively made the film worse, by some combination of the writing and performance. We didn’t like Jon Hamm’s FBI character, but I still enjoyed watching him. His motivations and actions made sense. Hers were enough to pull me out of the film. But otherwise, a really strong an compelling film

Richard Jewell – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n