The Official Review Thread of 2018

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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Jan 18, 2019 1:13 pm

The Original BJ wrote:The Foreign Language Film category really has the potential to be superb this year -- if Roma, Shoplifters, Cold War, and Burning (which might take a miracle, but I guess never say never) make the lineup, that'll be a slate that puts the Best Picture list to shame.

If all those films were to show up, it'd be a slate that bore comparison to the best picture lists of 1974 or 1975 -- good picks from an exceptional year.

TO ANSWER YOUR SPOILER QUESTIONS

It was left unclear how the couple had hooked up with Grandma. Given Grandma's obvious disinterest in following societal rules (as indicated by her arrangements with her ex-husband's family, and Aki), it may be they simply convinced her it was a mutually advantageous way to live (they helped take care of her in her old age and augmented her income, but they also benefited from her pension checks). But, no, it was one element that was never explained.

There was nothing we saw onscreen to validate what the police told Aki about Grandma and her family. It may have been a deliberate police attempt to mislead her as a way of breaking her off from the other characters, or a mistaken (and overly cynical) misread of the facts. I think the film is big on the idea of ambiguity -- or, put better, encourages us to see there are both harsh and more benign views of circumstances. Seen one way, what they do for Yuri/Lin is a kindness (removing her from a neglectful and sometimes abusive environment); seen another way, it's clearly a kidnapping. The superficially similar details regarding Shota, though, are much harder to euphemize: that was a clear kidnapping -- yet the way they raise him is unquestionably loving. And we don't really know the truth behind whatever event brought the main couple together. The cops blithely call it murder, but allow that the courts decided otherwise, so maybe the cops are seeing that one wrong. Or not.

I'd say the film's very title encourages us in the "take a more benign view" direction -- shoplifters is such a soft word, where it could have been "thieves". I don't think Kore-eda endorses the state/police view of events (or the way they view his characters) -- but he doesn't come down decisively ether way. Which is part of the beauty of the film.

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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby The Original BJ » Fri Jan 18, 2019 3:14 am

Shoplifters is indeed a very fine piece -- I actually had the same reaction Mister Tee did in terms of wanting to see it again right away. I did so a couple weeks later, and was struck anew by how compellingly the film was constructed -- a number of things that took me a while to figure out on first viewing were actually revealed pretty obviously early on, but because the movie treats its central scenario in such a matter-of-fact way they don't feel at all like big revelations. The movie just feels like it's dropping in on a series of lives, and leaves it to you to put all the pieces together. And by the end of the story all those pieces accumulate a surprisingly big emotional wallop. (Agreed on Sakura Ando, whose police station monologue -- "I FOUND her" -- is just heartbreaking.)

Even after seeing the film twice though, I was still left with a few questions:

SLIGHT SPOILERS BELOW

It was never revealed exactly how the central couple actually came to live with the grandmother, right? That was just something the film chose not to explain? Or did I miss something along the way?

Also, I'm not sure I entirely understand the meaning of the scene where the cops lead Aki (the teenage daughter) to believe that grandma only took care of her because her parents were paying her. Nothing about the scene with grandma and the parents suggests they have any idea where their daughter is, so the conclusion Aki comes to is wrong, right? Is the point of this scene simply to serve as another example of how many institutions designed to protect people end up causing pain in their lives?

END SPOILERS

The Foreign Language Film category really has the potential to be superb this year -- if Roma, Shoplifters, Cold War, and Burning (which might take a miracle, but I guess never say never) make the lineup, that'll be a slate that puts the Best Picture list to shame.

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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Jan 18, 2019 1:10 am

I keep thinking I'll find time to write extensively about films I've seen, but it never seems to happen, and now we're just days from the first of our two High Holy Days, so let me mention some things in brief:

I think, all things considered, Shoplifters is my favorite film of the year. It's for sure the only major movie that exceeded my expectations (Bohemian Rhapsody turning out to be not utterly abject crap doesn't count). I liked After the Rain in a sort of Chekhovian way, and expected Shoplifters to affect me much the same. But, from the start, it worked on a deeper level, and, in the final reel, it just punched me in the gut (it was like a fighter who pulls his punches most of the way, then goes full Muhammad Ali in the last round). The movie is deceptive: in the early portions, it can feel slightly annoying trying to put together who all these people are and who's related to who. But eventually it turns out there was method in the madness, and the film surprises in all kinds of complex ways by the end (almost to the point I wanted to re-watch the movie, knowing from the start all the things I knew by the finish). Great cast, with special mention to Sakura Ando, whose character keeps showing new sides, all the way to the climax. A truly wonderful piece of work.

Spider Man: Into the Spider-verse disappointed me just a tiny bit, in the sense that it was still, at core, a Spider Man movie -- meaning it had its villains and the plot to destroy the world as its main structure. I also thought it took a bit too long to get started; for the first 20 minutes or so, I was wondering what anyone had seen in the film. But it definitely took off, and much of the way was full of witty surprises and spectacular animation (it would be an excellent time for BJ's long-held wish of an animated film getting a production design nomination). I can't say I found the film exactly profound -- perhaps I'd need to have seen all the Spider Man movies, not just the 2 or 3 I have, for it to really blow my mind. But I have no problem with this becoming the animated feature winner; it's clearly a cut above. (And, to beat the same horse one more time, if one Marvel movie were to get a screenwriting nod this year, I'd be for this ahead of Black Panther.)

I'm not sure Private Life even counts as a movie (though it did open that way at Sundance). But it's one of the most solid adult comedy-dramas of the year. Tamara Jenkins is still mostly a writers-and-actors director -- she has no particular visual style -- but she's written a strong piece and has three really good actors front and center. Paul Giammatti can be tiresome in stuff like Billions, but here he offers a reminder of how good he was in Sideways (though one tirade in a doctor's office is perhaps too much a echo of that performance). Kathryn Hahn breaks out as a dramatic actress, with one fine scene after another. And Kayli Carter is so good at conveying all the shades of her character -- young, unfocused, too judgmental, but deeply generous -- that I'm retroactively sorry she hasn't been part of the year's supporting actress discussion.

Finally: The Rider. Sigh. If you were to construct a film in a laboratory specifically designed to not appeal to me but get raves elsewhere, The Rider would be the result. Stipulate that I saw the film on home video and didn't partake of the theatre experience...but I found the film akin to sensory deprivation: dull and inarticulate characters living bleak lives where nothing happens (apart from occasionally having to sell off or kill a beloved horse). I had my issues with Roma as narrative, but Roma is action-packed compared to this film. I gather it's more or less a true story, enacted by the people involved, but that only makes it worse: the amateur-level actors bring nothing to liven the proceedings, and the film has the limitation of documentary (no interesting plotting) without the advantage of verisimilitude. I guess this is the kind of movie people call "authentic" (especially critics who've likely never been within 500 miles of the milieu), but in this case, authenticity seems perilously close to cliche; I felt like I'd seen almost everything in it somewhere before. I did like a few stray things -- the campfire with the main character's buddies, the demonstration of how he trained a horse, the woman telling him he looked like his mother. But these were few and far between in a movie that mostly bored me senseless. I respect the right of others to love this kind of movie, but it's just not for me.

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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby Sabin » Thu Jan 17, 2019 10:45 am

It's pretty clear that if you want to enjoy Mission: Impossible -- Fallout, you should probably overpay to see it on the big screen. If you don't, you're not going to enjoy it as much. For example, the Paris Car Chase Scene. I've seen this kind of thing done so many times but it's executed really well. Even though the conceit is just "Tom Cruise rides his motorcycle the wrong way." It looks like he's going to get hit! The scene made me get off of my couch in suspense. It's probably a better movie when I can't do that.

This is a case of being slightly over-hyped. It has the same convoluted plot involving the fate of IMF that every Mission: Impossible film has, which serves to string together stirring set-pieces. It has the same surrogate family which is getting a bit tired and lame at this point. And it has the same magnifying lens on Cruise/Hunt and his role as the Eagle Scout Samurai of the free world. These movies have always had a problem with one question: "Why should we care about this guy?" With James Bond, the answer has always been simple. He's a male fantasy and a woman's dream. But even that doesn't track in the 21st Century. With Cruise/Hunt (there's no point in separating the two at this point), they figured it out in Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol with an inspired coda: he's lonely. It was a terrific film and the moment really worked, but in that film it crept up on audiences. Now it's the focus. How much can loneliness really become the driving focus of a series that's really just about Tom Cruise running? It's becoming diminishing returns the closer we get.

The Eagle Scout Samurai is also The Christ of Stunts. These set-pieces wave the banner of stunt vs. VFX for two and a half hours. The best moments of the series find a perverse joy in watching Tom Cruise pull off the impossible. At this point though, you can't help but feel them ticking off the boxes of what they haven't done yet. "Helicopter fight? Check." The ones that came closest for me were the bathroom brawl, two colliding fallen helicopters ping-ponging against each other near the edge of a cliff, and the Paris Car Chase Scene. I wish I overpaid for that stuff. But if I'm being honest, I think Ghost Protocol was the mic drop.
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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby anonymous1980 » Sun Jan 13, 2019 11:48 am

BUMBLEBEE
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Len Cariou, Glynn Turman.
Dir: Travis Knight.

This is the prequel/reboot/spin-off of the Transformers franchise has Bumblebee crashing on Earth and befriending a teenage girl in the mid-1980's. People who know me know I have a disdain and contempt for this franchise but giving the directorial reins to someone other than Michael Bay and having a script which actually value story structure and character arcs, you have a decent film in your hands. I mean, there's still robot action (or as Mark Kermode puts it, "bangy-smashy") but it's in service of an actual story. It may be far from a masterpiece. I mean, the '80s nostalgia is a bit been-there-done-that and I think it overdoes it too much. But, yeah, this is the movie the first Transformers should have been and easily the best Transformers movie.

Oscar Prospects: Doubtful.

Grade: B

BEAUTIFUL BOY
Cast: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Kaitlyn Dever, Andre Royo, Timothy Hutton, Lisa Gay Hamilton.
Dir: Felix van Groeningen

This film is based on two memoirs of a real-life father and son and the latter's struggle with the insidious disease of drug addiction and how it affects the family. This one takes a wider scope than the other drug addiction movie this year Ben is Back. Just like that movie, it's also far from perfect. I give it a lot of points for good intentions and great acting. Timothee Chalamet is amazing, as usual with great supporting work from Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan, though Steve Carell feels a tad miscast. It does feel a bit repetitive and preachy after a while but still a worthy enough effort from everyone involved.

Oscar Prospects: Chalamet's Supporting placement is controversial but I think the film is more the father's story so I'll allow it.

Grade: B

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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby anonymous1980 » Sat Jan 12, 2019 8:11 am

MARY POPPINS RETURNS
Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Pixie Davies, Nathaniel Saleh, Joel Dawson, Angela Lansbury, Dick Van Dyke.
Dir: Rob Marshall.

The sequel to the classic Disney adaptation of the P.L. Travers creation has Mary Poppins returning to the Banks household during a time when their house is about to get repossessed. I have two things to say about this first. I am a fan of the original. I loved the original. It's a childhood favorite and I still count it as among my favorite films, probably my favorite live-action Disney movie. Secondly, no, this isn't as good as the original. But it doesn't crap on its legacy either and it's a nice, companion piece to the classic. Contrary to what I've heard some people, I thought the songs were pretty darn good and the musical numbers are largely great. I did find myself trying to resist its charms but I ended up really falling for it. It's a really good movie.

Oscar Prospects: I'm not sure Emily Blunt can sneak in but a lot of music and design nominations will suffice.

Grade: B+

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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby HarryGoldfarb » Tue Jan 08, 2019 11:46 am

Precious Doll wrote:I hate that word 'masterpiece'. Its been used so liberally for decades now that it means nothing. The true test for films is time and even then some great films get lost. Some films age very well and others don't. So many factors come into play but honestly in my fifth decade of cinema going I doubt I can even count on one hand the number of contemporary 'masterpieces' I've seen in all those years. (That doesn't include retrospective cinema naturally). I could name dozens of very good films when I first saw them but 'masterpiece' - very, very rare.


I get your point, but the fact that it's overused doesn't mean the word doesn't mean a thing... or at least it shouldn't be that way.

According to Wikipedia (not the most trustable source, but a quick one), "Masterpiece" equals "magnum opus" (Latin, great work) or "chef-d’œuvre" (French, master of work, plural chefs-d’œuvre), and it is (in modern use) a creation "that has been given much critical praise, especially one that is considered the greatest work of a person's career or to a work of outstanding creativity, skill, profundity, or workmanship".

So any director can have his or her own "masterpiece", the high point of their careers. Roma may be Cuarón's masterpiece but it is all very subjective. The second meaning (a work of outstanding creativity, skill, profundity, or workmanship) lead us back to the subjectivity domain: outstanding for whom? That's where everyone can have their own personal "masterpieces", and it that sense it's a matter of taste (the identifying process of "personal favorites" passing for so called "masterpieces"). So yes, in the end, in any casual conversation, the word has to be considered very carefully...
"If you place an object in a museum, does that make this object a piece of art?" - The Square (2017)

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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby OscarGuy » Tue Jan 08, 2019 7:29 am

While I like Roma, I don't get the praise for it. The only film this year I've genuinely loved unequivocally is If Beale Street Could Talk.
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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby Precious Doll » Tue Jan 08, 2019 3:46 am

Reza wrote:
Sabin wrote:I still haven't seen Roma but I'm still waiting for the Masterpiece of 2018 to emerge


Well then maybe you quickly need to see Roma.


I hate that word 'masterpiece'. Its been used so liberally for decades now that it means nothing. The true test for films is time and even then some great films get lost. Some films age very well and others don't. So many factors come into play but honestly in my fifth decade of cinema going I doubt I can even count on one hand the number of contemporary 'masterpieces' I've seen in all those years. (That doesn't include retrospective cinema naturally). I could name dozens of very good films when I first saw them but 'masterpiece' - very, very rare.

There are no 'masterpieces' in 2018. There are a number of very good, rewarding and challenging films, mostly not in English. Maybe there are a couple that can be legitimately called a masterpiece in a couple of decades time but with the world literally falling apart under out feet in slow motion so I doubt anyone much will be giving a shit about cinema or 20 to 30 years time. Climate change is going to change everyone's priorities.
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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby Reza » Tue Jan 08, 2019 3:26 am

Sabin wrote:I still haven't seen Roma but I'm still waiting for the Masterpiece of 2018 to emerge


Well then maybe you quickly need to see Roma.

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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby Sabin » Tue Jan 08, 2019 2:37 am

Perhaps First Reformed would be better enjoyed as a refresher between Marvel Movies and not The Best Film of 2018 That Isn't Roma. I still haven't seen Roma but I'm still waiting for the Masterpiece of 2018 to emerge -- it isn't First Reformed. But it's a very watchable film, if not a terribly profound one. I have no problem with Paul Schrader plagiarizing his previous work (let alone those of others) if cause demands it and this is a fresh enough spin and reason. The big problem with the film for me is that it's so concerned with how it teases art that I never quite believed Toller's conversion. At its core, this is the story of a terribly sad man who uses climate change as an opportunity to go into a downward spiral. How does this happen? Through narrative sleights of hand, largely, and through implication, weight of subject matter, etc. It's not shocking that the New York Film Critics Circle honored Schrader for his screenwriting. This movie hits the narrative beats, but I couldn't shake the sense that this was a movie that is talking around something weighty. Like Paul Thomas Anderson's most elusive movies, you watch it and wonder "Where is this going and what is really going on?" and hoping that you get there. But really... it's all building to what Ignatiy Vishnevetsky jokingly called Chekhov’s suicide bomb. In the final moments, the film makes it clear that this is a breakdown. I'm not sure if Schrader wants us to view the final moment as one of salvation (the abrupt cut to black confuses me) and the clear religious allegories went over my head, but by the end of the film I found myself thinking that a movie about a priest who becomes an eco-terrorist either raised more questions -- or more hell.

It's still good, and Ethan Hawke's performance grows as the film goes onward. To me, this is less the crescendo of his career but one of many high points.
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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby anonymous1980 » Sun Jan 06, 2019 9:40 am

BLACKKKLANSMAN
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Harry Belafonte, Corey Hawkins, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ryan Eggold, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson, Alec Baldwin.
Dir: Spike Lee.

Based on the book on undercover police officer Ron Stallworth, this tells the amazing story of how he was able to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan (with the help of a white police officer). The latest Spike Lee joint and one made during the era Trump is predictably an angry film. Yes, this film is often very funny but watching it, it does make me angry that this film is STILL relevant and STILL tackles many of the same problems that plagues society today. Spike Lee can often be preachy and hit all the right notes very, very hard repeatedly and he's not one for subtlety (especially the last few minutes) but one can't deny no one does this type of film better than he. It's not a perfect film but it is one of the best films of the year and I think one of Spike Lee's best joints.

Oscar Prospects: Nominations across the board.

Grade: A-

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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Jan 03, 2019 5:47 pm

I line up pretty well with Sabin and Italiano on Cold War. It took me quite a while to realize where the movie was going -- at the start, I expected Agata Kulesza's character to have more to do with the eventual story, and Borys Szyc's character less. It wasn't till, I guess, half an hour or more in that I could see it was going to be mostly a two-hander, a conflicted love story. What made it interesting was that the ups and downs of the relationship proceeded not simply from the inability of the characters to live either with or without one another, but also from the politics and culture of post-war Europe, and the hold each had on the characters, separately and together. I agree the film felt a bit undernourished for not exploring some of these things at greater length -- I could have sat there a while longer, to learn more -- but on the other hand I found the elliptical quality kind of mesmerizing.

On one thing there's no doubt: absolutely gorgeous to look at, whether filming stark countryside or chic Paris bistros. Easily deserving of a cinematography nod.

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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby anonymous1980 » Sat Dec 29, 2018 1:20 pm

THE DEATH OF STALIN
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, Olga Kurylenko, Adrian McLoughlin, Paul Whitehouse.
Dir: Armando Ianucci.

Russian dictator Joseph Stalin dies. It creates a power vacuum in which all the players try for a power grab. This is a fact-based film but writer-director Armando Ianucci does it with a darkly comedic and satiric slant, reminiscent of his work in In the Loop. It may not be laugh out loud funny as that film but it's just as compelling. In a twisted way, I found this film somewhat comforting. In an age with buffoons as leaders like Trump and Duterte, it's nice to know that murderous dictators and their ilk are all just bumbling human beings who are far from gods. They should always, ALWAYS be knocked down a peg. It's good to know that Ianucci will be there to do it.

Oscar Prospects: Adapted Screenplay is possible.

Grade: A-

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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2018

Postby anonymous1980 » Thu Dec 27, 2018 10:22 am

PRIVATE LIFE
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Kathryn Hahn, Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch, Desmin Borges, Denis O'Hare.
Dir: Tamara Jenkins.

I saw this on Netflix. It's about a couple in their mid-40's struggling to have a baby and how they deal with the various complications involving that. When I first heard what it's about, I thought, "That's it?" There have been so many dramas and comedies dealing with the same subject matter but writer-director Tamara Jenkins manages to keep things fresh and honest. The script is intelligent. It's funny when it needs to be and thought-provoking when it needs to be. The performances are fantastic. Kathryn Hahn, in particular, is great. It doesn't break new ground but it does make me wonder why Tamara Jenkins isn't more prolific.

Oscar Prospects: Kathryn Hahn would be a good Best Actress nominee but she's an extreme long shot at best.

Grade: B+


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