So... I swapped grading systems in September! I've always hated that there are star-grading-systems out of 5 stars, and some out of 4, such that I always need to specify! And I've found that conversationally I use letter grades more often, as there are more grade options, allowing for greater specificity. So I figured that with my new approach of posting video-reviews on Instagram, now's a good time to swap grading systems. Heeeere we go: letter grades it is!
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD (B-) . [Instagram post]
AMERICAN MADE (B-) [Instagram post]
ATOMIC BLONDE (***) Charlize Theron kicks ass, and it's a fun time. Great camera work, great frenetic energy. Too weirdly tricky, for this brain at least, to follow the plot, and I ultimately didn't care about much. But it's a good time.
BABY DRIVER (***) isn’t much more than a stylized bank-heist car-chase popcorn fest. But as far as those popcorn flicks go, it’s among the top shelves.
BATTLE OF THE SEXES (A-) [Instagram post]
BEACH RATS (B) [Instagram post]
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (***1/2) How could a live-action CGI-ful remake of the classic animated tale possibly live up to the original? By faithfully honoring the story & spirit but being its own creature, and this colossal undertaking does it. Featuring stunning visuals and a more epic & dramatic tone, it had me at hello and brought me along for the soaring ride.
THE BIG SICK (***1/2) A lovely dramedy about many things: inter-racial coupling, a recently-ex-girlfriend in a coma, how to connect the parents of someone you care about. It's funny, beautiful, very worth cozying up to.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 (B+) [Instagram post]
BRAD'S STATUS (B+) [Instagram post]
BRIGSBY BEAR (**1/2) Super creative story. Not terribly creative presentation of said story.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (A) [Instagram post]
COCO (A-) [Instagram post]
COLOSSAL (***) is quite fun. Anne Hathaway as a sort-of voodoo doll for a monster in South Korea. It's fun to watch the story unfold, and Jason Sudekis is great as the male lead. His devolution as a character is a bit overwritten, and I wanted the movie to go to zanier places with the nutty premise. But it was surely fresh & fun.
COLUMBUS (**) It tries to capture the spirit of the Before series (Before Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight), but will just bore you to death. John Cho can't carry that kind of an endeavor. Haley Lu Richardson (Split, Edge of Seventeen) is wonderful though.
DARKEST HOUR (B+) [Instagram post]
DETROIT (***1/2) Kathryn Bigelow strikes again with a harrowing, taut depiction of racial tension between racist police officers and African Americans in. you guessed it, Detroit (in 1967). VERY good.
THE DISASTER ARTIST (A-) [Instagram post]
DOWNSIZING (A-) [Instagram post]
DUNKIRK (***1/2) Stellar. Puts you right there in war, alongside British & French some soldiers in a particularly nail-biting situation on the shores of western France as the Germans have them cornered. My only complaint: couldn't understand a god-damn thing anyone was saying (due to accents a bit, which I'm bad at understanding, but mainly to a score & sound effects that were STUNNING & tension-building, but unfortunately a bit too overpowering of the text.) It's light enough on plot (dropping that in favor of capturing a moment in time) that this didn't matter much, but it kept me out of the finer details of the moment-by-moment dramatic action. Look forward to seeing it again with subtitles! /// UPON SECOND VIEWING: (****) Watched with the subtitles on (on dvd, on a nice decently large, at-home tv), and I can now say: this film is flat-out excellent. Sure it's light on traditional plot, but that is the price of this bold experiment: to see what the impact is if we follow a wide-array of characters for brief amounts of time in an intertwining, immersive slice of war life. To me, the result is: utterly enthralling, and truly ground-breaking.
A FANTASTIC WOMAN (A-) [Instagram post]
FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL (B-) [Instagram review]
THE FLORIDA PROJECT (B+) [Instagram post]
FOXTROT (A-) [Instagram post]
GET OUT (***1/2) is a terrific, unique blend of horror, comedy, and social commentary. I'm sure you've heard a lot about it - while it's not life-changing (I would have enjoyed more enthralling cinematography & sound), the plot is SUPER haunting, and the hype is quite on point.
GIRLS TRIP (***) A fun enough, and at times moving actually, but altogether schmaltzy & underwritten comedy about 4 grown African American women reconnecting for a "girls trip". It's like Bridesmaids-lite with less craft.
GOOD TIME (***1/2) A terrific, taut, beautifully & frenetically shot story of a guy (Robert Pattinson in a surprisingly lived-in & layered performance) trying to pick up the pieces after a bank heist goes wrong and his disabled brother gets apprehended.
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (B+) [Instagram post]
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (**1/2) Am I the only guy out there who doesn't so much dig this universe? I like the tone of it and everything (and style of humor, the music...), but I just find myself not caring at ALLLLL about the plot, or the characters, or what in the Sam Hell is happening on all these ships & planets & whatever. Fun enough, but for me: Eject.
HOSTILES (C+) [Instagram review]
I, TONYA (A-) [Instagram post]
AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL (***1/2) Al Gore crushes it again, moving us to action with sobering information about our planet.
INGRID GOES WEST (***1/2) will make you question your engagement with social media, by telling the tale of a girl who hangs her life on it. This film made me feel so uncomfortable about where our world is going to the extent of having a hard time separating my response to the content to my response to the art. But in retrospect, only great art can ignite that kind of response.
IT (B+) [Instagram post]
IT COMES AT NIGHT (***) starts off rather haunting, and then gets slightly less so as you start to suspect that it may not really build to anything, but you still hold out hope that it does, which allows the suspense to continue; but then, it doesn’t, so it’s just a B movie. But it gripped me, for sure!
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (**1/2) This meandering action flick plunges even deeper than its predecessor in the direction of "if we film action smoothly & beautifully enough, the plot & dialogue & acting will NOT matter". And, somehow it almost works: it is indeed ridiculously well shot. But that only adds up to so much if you're not Mad Max: Fury Road.
JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (B+) [Instagram post]
LANDLINE (B+) Lovely lil family dramedy - check it out!
LAST FLAG FLYING (B-) [Instagram post]
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (***) is almost as inventive as the first LEGO movie, and just about as fun; but it doesn't dazzle & surprise the way the first did, and the first also got extra points for a surprisingly moving finale.
LIFE (***) is a thoroughly entertaining outer space flick with Jake Gyllenhaal and others battling a horrifying starfish-like Martian entity terrorizing their spaceship. It's positively haunting & suspenseful, though it is pretty frustrating to watch the 6 character on board the spacecraft make SUCH terrible decisions EVERY step of the way - kind takes you out of it over & over.
LOGAN (***) is quite different than your typical superhero movie - it does play more like a taut Western. But what it makes up for in class, it loses in dynamic plot - I grew bored of watching this raw, gritty man suffer such repetitive bs for 2 hours, as slick as the cinematic palate was.
LOGAN LUCKY (B) [Instagram post]
LOVING VINCENT (A-) is beauuuuutiful. The first entirely hand-drawn film, it's about the death of Van Gogh & delivered to us as a Van Gogh-like visual treat. You won't be able to look away for a second.
MARJORIE PRIME (B) [SEMI SPOILER-ALERT] What begins as a tender & engrossing tale of an octogenarian woman living with a hologram replica of her deceased husband (chosen to replicate him at the age of their nuptials) slowly devolves into a film that endlessly recycles itself as more & more main characters are revealed to be robot holograms themselves. Too bad - I was excited to see where this film might go, and instead it was three virtually identical acts. That does not a feature make, and the surprises lose weight over time.
THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED) (B+) [Instagram post]
MOLLY'S GAME (B+) [Instagram post]
MOTHER! (B+) [Instagram post]
MUDBOUND (B+) [Instagram post]
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (B) [Instagram post]
NOVITIATE (B+) [Instagram post]
OKJA (A-), by the director of Snowpiercer, accomplishes the tone that Snowpiercer went for but only got out of some subset-worlds & performers. That movie was tonally disjointed, and this one hits the nail on the head, creating a world that is utterly delicious & endlessly engrossing. Check it out on Netflix!
ONLY THE BRAVE (B) [Instagram post]
PATTI CAKE$ (***) A relatively moving tale of a poor & fat white girl who dreams of being a rap star, and gets farther than you'd expect. Newcomer Danielle Macdonald does a wonderful job, and comedian Bridgett Everett surprises as her mom - you'd never expect a comedian like her, with very little traditional acting experience, to bring such power & truth. It's pretty boring though, tbh...
PHANTOM THREAD (B+) [Instagram post]
THE POST (B+) [Instagram post]
ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. (B-) [Instagram post]
THE SHAPE OF WATER (A) [Instagram post]
SOME FREAKS (***1/2) is a beautifully acted drama about the let's-brave-this-tough-world kinship between a one-eyed high school student (Thomas Mann) and the overweight new girl who's moved to town (Lily Mae Harrington). Their relationship is terrifically explored and layered, especially for a "teen angst flick"; and the actors' performances will dazzle you. The complicated & real vulnerability is handled with a level of specificity that allows for it to resonate rather deeply.
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (***) was a blast. Not innovative enough to earn another half-star, but I had no complaints - it was the fun time I signed up for.
SPLIT (**) Seen as M. Night Shyamalan's comeback and as containing a doozy of a twist ending, this is quite a letdown. James McAvoy delivers a stellar turn as a split-personality kidnapper, but the rest of the performances are wooden, and the "twist" is a mere... semi-creative and self-indulgent contextual reveal. Booooo.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (A) [Instagram post]
STRONGER (B) [Instagram post]
SUPER DARK TIMES (B+) [Instagram post]
THEIR FINEST (***1/2) is a delightful British dramedy about a team of filmmakers finding their way through the cinematic arts during World War II. Bill Nighy steals the show as a showboat actor with surprising depth.
THOR: RAGNAROK (C+) [Instagram post]
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (A) [Instagram post]
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (**1/2) is more paint-by-number & autopilot, less dynamic or weighty or thrilling, than the first two in the series. Nonetheless, it’s decent enough entertainment.
WIND RIVER (***) A thriller with Jeremy Renner & Elizabeth Olsen plays like a Fargo-wannabe (the series I mean, not much comedy here), but with less tension & texture.
WONDER WOMAN (***1/2) Fun times! Definitely had more of an interesting story than the vast majority of the Marvel movies. And for much of it, it dwarves Guardians in terms of comedy - because the comedy comes via well-investigated character dynamics and smart circumstances, rather than via hokey gimmicks that feel cheap & repetitive & obvious. A little too glossy & melodramatic, but overall: a great success!
WONDERSTRUCK (B) [Instagram post]