Small Town Wisconsin v. The Metascore

L&D haven’t quite regained our stride yet in churning out the reviews with all the triathloning and assorted world travleing, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t kept our stride in hitting the theater. But it seems that the disconnect between what we are seeing on the screen and what the Metacritics are telling us seems to be growing more acute. So here is the &D-half of a bundle of recent films for your consideration.

Downton Abbey: A New Era **  What information does a Metactric score of 63 convey here? Not much, unfortunately. Most of the reviews emphasize how “fans of the series” might enjoy the pomp and the camp and the big clothing budget and the French countryside. Fan or not, this production in no way threatens to turn into a good movie. If you are familiar with the series, this is watchable. If not, forget it. Dominic West as the dashing Guy Dexter warrants an extra half star.

Hustle **½ A straight-to-Netflix production with Adam Sandler as a basketball scout that travels the globe looking for the uncut gems of the basketball world. You know that guy you play noon-ball with? With a little roadwork and some helpful tips from Adam Sandler, he could be playing for the Celtics! This one answers the question of how many cameos and popular-culture references can you jam into 100 minues and still call it a movie? Answer: Quite a lot. An entertaining movie, but not a terribly tight or believable script. The best part for me is that Sandler does an excellent job portraying someone who is trying to be funny but isn’t. Metascore of 68 is generous, with 10-15 of those points undoubtedly coming in garbage time, so to speak.

Eiffel *** This is a nice contrast to the Downton Abbey reviews, with a lowly 46 for its Metascore. This one also features remarkable production values and some pretty impressive feats of strength as the eponymous tower goes up. The storyline is improbable and at times problematic, and the movie had some pacing problems in its second half, but this is a solid effort that is quite a bit better than Downton Abbey goes to France. C’iest la vie.

Elvis **½ An ambitious three-hour long spectacle that tries to do ten things and does two or three of them well. Austin Butler in the lead role has some super great moments, and the first Vegas show is awesome. But what you learn here is that the film makers either don’t know too much about Elvis or they don’t want you to know because that would ruin their film. Tom Hanks as the Colonel is easily the worst thing about this movie. Whose idea was that? Overall, you will probably like this so I recommend that you go see it. If you have a thing for big-budget music vidoes, you should definitely go see it. Even so, Metascore of 64 is pushing it.

Top Gun: Maverick *** This is approximately as good as the original in my estimation, and it works as a stand-alone project. Very loud and very serviceable action. Bump it a down a half star if Tom Cruise is a distraction for you. Metascore of 78 is generous, but not egrigious.

Thor: Love and Thunder *½  On the plus side, Christian Bale is a pretty good villian and Russell Crowe has a moment or two as the Big Guy. Oh, Matt Damon, that is kind of amusing. On the negative side, pretty much everything else. I got up in the middle to do my business and Dr. B was worried that I was walking out of the movie and abandoning him. Metascore of 60 is at least 20 points too high.

Small Town Wisconsin *** In what is not exactly a love letter to his home state, director Niells Mueller characterizes working-class rural America (focusing on a twenty-mile permimeter in and around Milwaukee). The New York Times is the only source to weigh in at Metactric, concluding that the film “is not sufficiently distinctive to rise above the standard-issue cinematic contemplation of the arguably poignant state of the white male American screw-up.” Screw up isn’t a terribly sympathetic description of a main character who is a second-generation (at least) alcoholic and child-abuse victim, but there you have it. The Metascore is 60, and I think that’s probably about right.

Watchable Westerns that I have Watched

Question:  My boy and I are on a Western film kick that started with Ballad of Buster Scruggs (way underrated).  From there we hit The Searchers, Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, and Hondo.  Last night we watched Butch Cassidy, which, while exceptional at times, felt dated and longer than its run time.

What else should be on the list?

Answer (D):  The key to answering this question is to know that there are lots of Best Westerns, and then there are the Best Westerns, and then there are the best Westerns, but these are some of my best Westerns, at least the ones I can remember:

Can’t Miss

  • Tombstone
  • Lonesome Dove series (!)

For pure, wholesome, family-like entertainment, it’s hard to go astray with these two.   The apex of Val Kilmer.

The Spaghetti Trinity, plus one and then plus another one

  • Fistful of Dollars
  • For a Few Dollars More
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  • Once Upon a Time in the West
  • Unforgiven

I recommend seeing at least one of the first two two before diving into Il Buono and friends.    Then wait a year and watch Unforgiven (spoiler alert: he aint like that no more).

Once Upon a Time is not the fastest-moving movie, but it is exceptional.

Top Ten in my Favorite Movies

  • There Will Be Blood

There is not a greater movie about American capitalism than There Will Be Blood.

I Really Enjoyed These Movies

  • True Grit
  • A River Runs through It (!)

I am partial to the Coen version!, though you might have to watch it with closed captions.  And, who doesn’t like movies about would-be professors and their exceptionally good-looking brothers? I also enjoyed Ballad of Buster Scruggs, especially the Liam Neeson one. 

And Franco, of course.

Modern Westerns 

  • No Country for Old Men
  • Hell or High Water 
  • Lone Star
  • Gold

No Country is exceptional, but too violent for sharing with anyone not accustomed to violent movies.  Hell or High Water was a little preachy upon rewatching, but was one of our L&D Picks for 2016.  Also violent.   Gold is definitely underrated. McConnaughey in tighty whiteys that are neither tight nor white.

 Possibly too Violent, but mostly great

  • Hateful Eight

Tarantino kept the tension high for a while, but then it devolves into Kill Bill.  Isn’t that just like him?

Way too Violent, but completely great

  • The Wild Bunch

Way Too Violent and Disturbing and Under No Circumstances Share this with Your Kid, but Great and, hey, Nick Cave!

  • The Proposition

I was so excited about this movie and I was loving watching this movie and there are so many things right about this movie and, wait, what just happened?!

I Want to Live in a World With These

  • McCabe and Mrs. Miller
  • Dead Man

Altman and Jarmusch weigh in, wow.  How this missed the Jarmusch Film Festival, I’ll never know.

More from the Classics

  • Treasure of the Sierra Madre (more western mining!)
  • The Ox-Bow Incident (yikes!)
  • Shane (I want to live forever!)

More Good Stuff

  • The Long Riders
  • Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
  • The Assassination of Jesse James…

That’s Entertainment

  • Pale Rider
  • 3:10 to Yuma

Does anyone besides me remember The Magnolias version of “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”?  To paraphrase a colleague, “The Magnolias don’t even remember playing that song.”

I really liked the remake of 3:10 to Yuma right up until near the end, and then…. Russel Crowe is very good.  Gretchen Mol is even better.  

So, that’s a hundred hours of entertainment, and you might even learn something along the way.   Hit me up if you are planning to see any of these on the big screen.

Except for The Proposition.  I can’t handle that again.

L&D Picks & Pans for 2019

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It is that time of year where L&D compare notes and catalog the year that was.  And it was a decidedly unusual year, with lots of big budget productions that did not translate into great movies and mediocre superhero and serial epic movies that failed to impress (Terminator: Dark Fate, Men in Black, Avengers: Endgame, The Rise of Skywalker, Ad “it took four idiots to write that?” Astra,  Midway). 

Whew!   Talk about CGI.

That we liked Brittany Runs a Marathon better than any of these probably gives you some hint as to where this is heading.  So let’s head on over to the year that was…

Most Read Review: L’s review of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood wins this one going away.  He was decidedly unimpressed with Tarantino’s re-imagining of the Manson murders (an L&D split decision) and our readers seemed to love it.  But he didn’t hate it as much as he hated Mother!, which still holds the crown for the all-time most-read post here at The Report.

The Double Reviews:   Four double reviews this year, with split decisions on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (L, D) and Rocketman, two frying pans to the noggin for McConaughey’s curious atrocity, Serenity, and two sympathetic nods of approval for the remarkable Cate Blanchett in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?.

Box Office Don’t Lie: We were two of the few people disappointed by Joker, evidently, though D did manage to get a sprawling review together.  Although we brandished Avengers: Endgamewith the coveted “not terrible” tag, it was still overwhelmingly ungreat.  And D wasn’t a big fan of the live action The Lion King, though you probably saw it and loved it.

The Worst of the Year: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for L, The Lion King for D. 

Don’t Trust Anthropologists: Generally good advice in any year, but Midsommar cemented it for us:

Between the visuals and the music and the director’s patience with scenes and the hyper-deliberate pace of the plot-lines, the movie does a spectacular job of inducing dread. It wasn’t terribly scary scary, but it was unnerving and more disturbing than your average bear.

Stuff We Liked but Didn’t Write Reviews:  Ford v. Ferrari (Bale and Damon road show, good stuff), Jojo Rabbit (crazy, heartbreaking, Scarlett Johansson is a genius), Zombieland Double Tap (very funny, extremely well done), Motherless Brooklyn (beautifully done, great portrayal of historic NYC, but a yawner).

Other Stuff We Liked but Didn’t Make our Top Six:  Hustlers, Good Boys, Booksmart.

L&D Top Six:  And on to the Creme of the Fraiche, L took the lead on reviewing every single one of our movies that made the top six.   Figure that one out.

#6 Knives Out:  “a refreshing storyline and amazing performances by Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig. If you are into whodunits, do yourself a favor and check out this movie.”

#5 Yesterday:   “We heard a few folks clapping during the credits. I can’t remember the last time I heard that.”

This was L’s favorite for the year and D liked it enough that it made his top ten.   It’s pretty good.

At #4 we had The Favourite, which was a 2018 movie in L.A. and NYC, but a 2019 movie here in Badgerland:

There are few actresses who can hold an entire film together with so little as a fleeting glance, Emma Stone is one. In fact, Stone’s performance here is so strong that if she is not nominated for an Academy Award, I shall have to relive myself in the royal vomit bucket— there is apparently one in every room of the palace.

Definitely thought provoking and a conversation starter, even if you found its characters and/or its characterizations objectionable.

#3 UsAn imperfect but extremely innovative horror story that gave L&D the heebie jeebies.

Our clerk at the concession stand did an amazingly good job summing up the movie, even though his tag said his favorite film was La La Land. His 1 minute critique was concise, precise and didn’t include any spoilers. He said it was not a horror film but more of a slasher, suspense film that was very entertaining and had a great ending.

We replied — Yes, we would like butter. We would always like butter.

We both agreed that we should watch this one a second time now that we know what we know, but I think both of us were too creeped out to follow through on that pledge.

Awkwafina dominates in #2 Farewell, and L tells us that “I would watch it again, but it’s out of the theater. You should catch it when it’s streaming. I can’t recommend it enough.” D concurs.

And our we managed to see our #1 film of the year in the absolute last time slot that it showed here in Appletown (right before the Big Parade!), and we are sure glad we got to see Parasite, “a fascinating work and an instant cinema classic.” The L&D pick for the year in a runaway.

L&D will look for you in the theaters in 2020 and we might be experimenting with some new formats.  Over the next few weeks we will be mopping up the Oscar bait that we didn’t get a chance to see in 2019, including Uncut Gems, Little Women, and 1917, and let’s hope February and March aren’t as dreadful as in year’s past.

We also heard a rumor that there is a L&D Best of the Last-Half Decade list in the works.  Watch this space!

Thanks again for your eyes on these pages.  This was our biggest year ever by far in terms of page views, and we’ll hope that we can continue to give you a reason to check us out.

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Are the February listings out already?

 

Power

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In the last calendar year and in this year so far, the political biopic, i.e., biographical movie, has been a constant movie occurrence. Or is it eternal? It seems we will always wonder about the lives of people who shape history. 

In this essay I cover some of the political biopics that caught my eye and moved me one way or another. Though there are others, the recent depiction of Winston Churchill comes to mind, that don’t make the cut here. 

But let’s take these: L and D’s top film of 2018, The Death of Stalin, Chappaquiddick, The Front Runner, The Favourite, Mary Queen of Scots, Vice and On the Basis of Sex. 

One of the foundational rules of filmmaking is to show, don’t tell. Just keep that in your back pocket as you read this. Another rule of thumb is that in a short film, having one strong protagonist is the best way to keep an audience involved in the story. And you can extrapolate that to features. It’s easier to keep the audience if your film isn’t meandering or involving many points of view. There are exceptions of course. The most recent Murder on the Orient Express had a fantastic cast and even though I deduced who the murderer was in the first 5 minutes it didn’t fail to captivate me as a story. A film can also cover many years and still be powerful, it’s just more of a challenge. Citizen Cane does a good job of it. As I said, there are exceptions. Now if it were just a case of dramatizing a given situation, some kind of winning formula, I wouldn’t have had one of my greatest movie going disappointments, Sully. Moments after take off a plane crashes into the Hudson River. The pilot is able to land the plane without loss of life. Sounds like an incredible movie but really, it’s just an incredible moment. There is no formula for a hit movie, just some guidelines. 

I won’t rehash our review of The Death of Stalin here. Suffice it to say, you get to know Stalin in the exposition. You witness his death. There is a mad power vacuum that ensues. Society, which was absurd and unjust during Stalin’s lifetime, threatens to absolutely unwind in the time shortly after his death. The performances are outrageously good. It’s a true masterpiece of dark humor and grim reality. It gracefully paints a portrait of one dramatic moment in time.  It trusts that you understand something of the workings of the Bolshevik revolution and something of what happens after the time in question. 

Chappaquiddick and The Front Runner are films that needed to come out around the time of the incidents they portray. They are past relevancy, poignancy.  They, Like Mary Queen of Scots, would have you support protagonists who are well past complicated and simply obstinate. I would say that the Mary Jo Kopechne drowning scene in Chappaquiddick is so powerful that you could never argue that the filmmakers are Ted Kennedy apologists but they are not far from it. And though that film does concentrate on a specific moment in time, the drama gets completely bogged down in rooms and meetings. It fails to show as it falls back on telling, on merely depicting people talking into phones and scheming. “But that’s what happened” you could argue. Well, it’s not cinematic. 

The Front Runner also gives us a clueless presidential candidate who seems totally out of touch with the times. But it does smack of apology for bad behavior. I will never get over how the defining moment for presidential hopeful Gary Hart was a trip on the boat Monkey Business but it is somehow not even the title of the film.  In the film there is a scathing one minute monologue by Johnny Carson via a TV set Hart is watching.  The entire film is summed up by Carson. Like Chappaquiddick, Front Runner tries to milk this one defining moment and devolves into representations of phone calls with his wife and spin meetings with his staff.  Talking not showing.

Mary Queen of Scots certainly does a fine job of depicting action. There are plenty of horse rides, a battle, a stabbing and even a decent explosion. But if you have a political character that’s not likable, whose motives aren’t honorable or who feels entitled and again, out of touch with the people, all the action in the world will not save that story. There is also plenty of staring into space by the protagonist, the movie seemingly falling in love with its very existence. There is also no backstory whatsoever besides titles. I’m not sure if titles are even worse a sin than talking vs showing in film. Again, there are always exceptions, like the opening titles of Star Wars. One of the more interesting aspects of another film I will get to, Vice, is the depiction of the early, more formative years of Dick Cheney. You may never agree with him but you understand where he is coming from and his drive for power. This never happens with Mary Queen of Scots. The audience never gets invested in her story. 

Which brings me to the aptly titled, The Favourite.  The audience here is instantly invested in the fortunes of a former lady as she attempts to regain her status in proper society. As the intrigue at Kensington Palace thickens the feeling of suspense only grows. There is plenty of blood and guts, scars and plain ol’ wild outbursts in this film. You understand exactly the perils which the protagonist must endure, the indignities she has to suffer and the level of cunning needed to ascend. It’s a startlingly good performance by all of the main players and easily a top L & D 2018 pick had it been released sooner. But to go over what works, it focuses on a main protagonist, during a specific time period with well established obstacles and goals. As each scene should have obstacles and goals for the players so should each film for its story.  It’s completely cinematic at every opportunity and lets the audience sympathize with the plight of the protagonist and share in her plots, schemes, victories and defeats. There are moments when the star of this film stares off into thought, but those are moments of gravitas that are not overused and therefore dulled or self-serving. 

I had high hopes for Vice. It starts off strong enough, as we discover the ne’er-do-well Dick Cheney. The man is a simple mess, looking at life through the bottom of a beer bottle. This really sets the story up nicely. However, it goes off the rails, at once blaming Cheney for every ill in society since 1974 and trying to excuse his politics. The side splitting laughter of then secretary of defense Rumsfeld when asked by Cheney, “What do we believe in?” is all you need to know. It’s tough for an audience to get behind a character whose own moral compass blows with the wind. And perhaps to answer why he did what he did in a word would be — power. Because he could. The yin to the yang of Alex Honnold free solo climbing El Cap is Cheney being the puppet master behind the 2003 Iraq war.  

Vice’s meandering is quite unlike On the Basis of Sex, which is a beautiful and elegant movie that surprised me with a succinct narrative. Cinematically told with great period shots of Harvard, Denver and New York City. Focusing on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s days at college, starting out as a professor and eventually arguing a case before a federal appeals court.  It didn’t try to cover all of her cases and therefore the story never gets muddled. It stays specific to one early case, complicated enough to be interesting yet simple enough to be enjoyable. And obviously we follow the one main point of view, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s, as it evolves into the voice of a generation who fight to set a new legal landscape for women in America. 

So power can be represented in many ways. There is no formula for a successful political biopic film. But there are things that work. Letting the audience get to know the characters, their early lives and motivations. Remaining cinematic throughout the film and not getting bogged down in conversations and static shots of one actor on a phone in a small room. Understanding that one event alone does not make a film. Not trying to cover too much historical ground but creating a story around specific defining moments. Establishing a few simple obstacles and goals that the audience can be involved in as the protagonist strives and achieves. Is it easy to make a great film? It’s not easy.  But it’s fair to say that of this most recent slew of biopics only a few filmmakers have been able to surpass this high bar. 

L&D Picks & Pans for 2018

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It was a pretty good year for movies in east-central Wisconsin, so grab a chalupa and see how the L&D staff saw things this year.

Most Read Review:  We almost wet our pants in anticipation of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in the newest incarnation of A Star is Born, and evidently it was a crowd fave, too. The page views still pale in comparison to those for Mother!, L’s brilliant takedownof this most-terrible Daron Aronofsky film.

The Double Reviews:   These are films that were compelling enough that we both penned reviews – Deadpool 2 (L, D) and Crazy Rich Asians (L, D).  Both worth seeing, though neither made either or our top ten lists.

Documentaries:  We don’t see a lot of documentaries coming through the Marcus chain, but Free Solo and They Shall Not Grow Old each came through and each came through big time.  The former documented an extraordinary event and the latter was an extraordinary event in and of itself.

The Worst of the Year:   D has perhaps seen one too many CGI superhero movies and wishes he would have sat Aquaman out.  It makes those X-Men movies seem understated and coherent.  L couldn’t get past the fact that a movie about Gary Hart wasn’t named Monkey Business and put The Front Runner as his worst of the year (though I thought Chappaquiddick was actually even worse).  In fairness to these movies, we didn’t see the new incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, which by almost all accounts is a complete disaster.

Box Office Don’t Lie:   Venom wins this one hands’ down for being panned while generating revenues of nearly $1 billion.  Although I generally enjoyed the film, I will give a hat tip to First Man for missing its chance to tell us something we didn’t already know about Neil Armstrong.  Is she still mad at him?

Notables:  Although the political biopics were worse than disappointing, we were treated to some exceptional storytelling with both BlacKkKlansman and I, Tonya.   Old Man & the Gun wasn’t bad, either.  Look for more in the Top Six.  We also saw some funny movies this year that we didn’t expect would be that funny, including Blockers, which was really funny, and Book Club, which was also really funny.  Plus, it had Jane Fonda.  Of course, if you have learned anything from reading this blog, it is that you need to manage your expectations.  In that spirit, we found a lot to like in this year’s best action movie, Mission: Impossible: Fallout, which featured some really innovative and spectacular action shots and set locations, including a new way to show someone falling out of a helicopter.  Kudos.

Best Movies Not Mentioned Yet:   Bad Times at El Royale sets a blistering pace that it fails to sustain, but it is a very good effort and a movie we both plan to see again.  Widows is also exceptional and the car ride across the Flanagan district might have been my favorite scene of the year.   If you get a chance, you should also see The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.  Come for The Franco, stay for Liam Neeson.

As for our Top Six, here we go:

#6 & #5  Can You Ever Forgive Me?  and Green Book (L) Another lesson we’ve learned is don’t trust the trailers, and we hesitated to even see these movies because the trailers made them out to be something that they weren’t.   These two films even more in common than bad trailers, so much so that L penned a joint review:  “These films are Oscar worthy in various artistic and technical categories. If you are looking for funny, deep, thought provoking, well-crafted, historical and yet personal films to watch, I recommend Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Green Book to you.”

#4  Free Solo (L) “If you take the time to watch this movie it’s something that will actually give back to you and enrich your life. There are not many movies you can say that about. And definitely catch it in the theater so you can truly appreciate the scale of this almost unimaginably epic undertaking.”   Or buy yourself a projector and show it on a really big sheet at home.  Unimaginable is the perfect word choice for Alex Honnold’s feats of strength.

#3  Phantom Thread (D) “The bottom line is that you can take the movie at face value and you will find it beautiful and possibly that it has a lot to say about cut-throat competition in human interactions…  But I would urge you to have an open mind about this being a comedy, because the movie is seriously hilarious… [We] encourage you to check it out because it is beautiful, awesome, hilarious, and may well be Daniel Day-Lewis’ last role.”

#2  Eighth Grade (L)Eighth Grade is a masterpiece. It’s a simple as that. I don’t know what’s in the water that writer director Bo Burnham is drinking but I would like to splash a little on my neck… While chronicling the life and times of 13 year old Kayla Day (Elise Kate Fisher) you never feel imposed upon. There is never some heavy hammer here. Just like social media itself, like a snake, it slowly envelops its prey and before you know it, you can…not…breathe.  [T]he real triumph of the film is that it can at one hand painfully and accurately represent the struggle of this age and at the same time entertain the audience every step of the way. Having us wonder what on earth will happen next. ”

Short-listed for loudest film of the year — you should see this in the theater for no other reason that you can’t turn the volume down!   There is no escape.  A metaphor for adolescence if there ever was one.

#1  Death of Stalin (D) Ostensibly a black comedy, though it is perhaps still too soon.  Great acting from Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, and especially Simon Russell Beale, “who is other-worldly in his role as the head of state security, Lavrentiy Beria, with a performance that is so convincing, so troubling, I was physically unsettled for most of the film.”

“But It’s fair to say that the movie is more than a sum of its acting, as the set pieces, costumes, and general tenor are all convincing and excellent, and contribute to the unease that certainly will fill any thinking person… Buscemi as Khrushchev emerging as the voice of reason is both a relief and horrifying all at once… So, big, big ups from L&D, with the caveat that maybe it’s better not to think to hard about the fact versus fiction in this one, as the facts are probably even worse than what this movie shows and implies.”

The ups are so big, in fact, that is L&D’s movie of the year.

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So, that’s 21 movies listed here we liked, and three that we didn’t.  If you see any of these, please let us know what you think.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading.   We appreciate the support — tell a friend, tweet the review if you like it.  And, thanks to Marcus Theaters for its remarcable Tuesday and Thursday specials.  We wouldn’t do it without you.

L&D Picks for 2017

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It’s hard to believe we’re two years in on the L&D project, but here we are.  As was the case for 2016, this is our joint assessment of the top films of 2017, contingent on each of us having viewed the films.  If you don’t see it here, either we didn’t see it, or we didn’t love it.

 

Post of the Year:

Mother!:  “If if cannibalism, cult ritual, random symbolic blood, fever dream lapidary and just open wounds in general and extreme close-ups in particular do it for you, then this just may be the film you have been waiting for.” (L)   But back here in the reality-based community, we rated this a travesty, and L’s review thoroughly panning it was far-and-away the most popular review of the year.   

Split Decisions:

Murder on the Orient ExpressThis one made L’s top five for its brilliant cinematography and Kenneth Branagh’s ostentatious mustache guard.   D also thought it was beautiful to see, but that it would have been just as good with the sound off. 

Spider Man: HomecomingA big D favorite for its brilliant melding of the chase-the-bad-guys-and-blow-stuff up action movie with the poignant teen adolescent drama — he found himself identifying with the authority figures and sympathizing with the kids.  L couldn’t bring himself to place three superhero movies in his top 10, and is waiting for the new Deadpool to fall in love with the genre all over again.

 

L&D TOP FIVE for 2017

#5 (TIE) Wonder Woman: “Wonder Woman is a good movie. Not a great one. We have seen all of this before. Especially the massive ending with the big explosions etc. etc. Regardless, it is enjoyable as hell and it is a movie to root for with its fantastic lead, Gal Gadot and the kick ass Director, Patty Jenkins.” (L)

#5 (TIE) Lady BirdLady Bird characterizes the life of a gifted middle-class high school girl with a reasonably stable but financially strained home life.  The beauty of the film is that the real drama is understated, while Lady Bird’s own existential issues boil over on the surface.   The more I think about this movie, the more I like it. (D)  As our guest reviewer Joanna Dane puts it, “In the end, we feel the most empathy for the character who is the most difficult to empathize with.”  Indeed.

#4 The Big Sick: “I went into The Big Sick with higher than usual expectations and it did not disappoint. That is saying something. It’s not preachy but it is intelligent and gets its points about relationships and culture across in a humorous and meaningful way.  It is possibly this generation’s When Harry Met Sally, even boasting a scene at the batting cages.  The film never sinks to schmaltz, the actors bring it —  the emotion and intensity — and the writing remains honest and moving.  Its long and eclectic soundtrack has everything from Boz Scaggs to Veilumuth Chitralekha.  And Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are excellent in supporting roles.” (L)

#3 Thor: Ragnarok:  “To its great credit Marvel Studios has enough self-awareness, self-deprecation, humor and zaniness going on for everyone in the audience to let their hair down and have fun. Even though the theme of the film is a heroic one, stating essentially that it’s important to not hide but rather face your problems head on, it doesn’t hurt when part of your problem is a giant digital hieroglyph of psychedelic Gradmaster, Jeff Goldblum. Certainly on the short list of best superhero movies ever.”  (L)

#2 Blade Runner: “The movie had a lot of cool stuff going on, the visual awesomeness being the most obvious — the 3D reel is beautiful and pretty seamless — along with some interesting characters and some reasonable action when they got around to showing it.  The movie forwards the thesis that the apocalypse will take the form of technology and robots and artificial intelligence insinuating themselves in such a way that pushes the human race towards irrelevance and, ultimately, obsolescence. It’s only a matter of time before the robots take over;  we will just have to wait to see whether it’s the good or the bad ones in charge when all that orange dust finally settles.” (D)  See also (L)

#1 Dunkirk  A unanimous #1 here for its flawless effects, brilliant combat scenes, including the aerial dogfights, and seamless and engaging acting. Its ultimate victory is that it’s claustrophobic. For an IMAX formatted movie to be at once epic in its scope and claustrophobic in its atmosphere is a testament to the greatness of everyone who worked on this picture and the vision of Christopher Nolan.  We are both sorry we didn’t see this a few more times on the big screen, or even drive to an IMAX or 70mm locale.

DK

And that is a wrap for 2017.    We love writing and talking about this stuff.   Thanks for reading along.

 

L&D Picks for 2016

Here is our long-awaited (mostly by us) list of the top five movies of 2106, taken from the universe of movies viewed by both L & D in 2016.   The rankings are based on a proprietary L&D weighting formula that you can just bet Netflix would kill for.

And here we go:

6. (tie) The Girl on the Train:  *The Girl on the Train* was reminiscent of the great French New Wave Director Claude Chabrol who concerned himself with the police procedural, bourgeois family life in small towns and murder. It also crossed paths with the neurosis found in many of the female leads of Hitchcock’s films and with the idea of a society turned against the protagonist, also a mainstay of Hitchcockiana. Again, going in with low expectations, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and found the production values, cinematography, set and costume design, makeup, story, editing, acting, sound design and even score (by The Simpsons theme own Danny Elfman) to be above average if not under par. So why does this film not get the hype it deserves? Well dammit it should. Perhaps a better title would have been “Murder on the Hudson”.

6. (tie) The Arrival:  (Marketed outside the US as *The Giant Space Turd Movie*)  *The Arrival* revisits the standard alien romance drama with the strong female lead made famous by Jodie Foster in *Contact*, but without the benefit of Matthew McConaughey’s Matthew McConaugheyness. Only this time, it’s Amy Adams as the lead egghead, and she is pretty terrific. If you like aliens and you like romance, there is probably something for you here.

4.  Rogue One:  The last Star Wars movie was a greatest hits album and so of course people liked it, because, who doesn’t like the hits?  But *Rouge One* was the story I have been waiting for. Not to mention I am a big Diego Luna fan. His company produced a film I worked on in Mexico called Voy a Explotar. I was fortunate enough to meet him on a rooftop in Guanajuato during production. Great guy and actor. One of my favorite films of his is called Rudo y Cursi, a fútbol comedy well worth watching. But hey, you are here to read about *Rouge One*. Yes, I knew the ending but I still enjoyed the ride getting there. And basically I enjoyed everything about it. We watched in 3D and to be honest, I can’t tell the difference. But is it because it’s so good? If it’s working, it’s working in a subtle way and maybe that’s for the best. Except for the credits. Credits in 3D are always amazing. (L)

3.  Snowden:  Oliver Stone hit it out of the park. This film could easily have been a geeky dud, filled with computer screens and talking heads but it was a classic Hollywood film wrapped around a social document told in an arresting, cinematic way. Not to mention fantastic, measured performances including Nicholas Cage. It was impressive. Everyone who watches this film will get something worthwhile out of it.

1.   (tie)  Hell or High Water:  *Hell or High Water* delivers on its promise to be the best modern western since *No Country for Old Men*. Ben Foster deserves leading-man credit for keeping his usual psychotic character under wraps to let the movie happen around him. Jeff Bridges reprises his role of Rooster Coburn as the surly,aging lawman, though he too is a little more reserved in this role. Chris Pine is a better Captain Kirk than sad sack, and is too good looking to be terribly convincing, but he does alright. We haven’t seen this all before, but it seems like we’ve seen most of this before. Nonetheless, there are a few surprises, and the compelling plot and characters, along with some reasonable action sequences and a number of provocative thematic elements, mask some of the weak links of the story line. Of particularly interest is the Evangelical Christian Native American Texas Ranger, who didn’t deal well with Bridges’ many ethnic slurs. This is definitely one of the best couple movies we’ve seen this year.

1.   (tie)  Deadpool   With action sequences targeting 15-year old boys and jokes targeting 40-something men, it’s probably no big surprise that it was a hit with the L&D crowd.  If you like the opening sequence, you’ll probably love the rest.

lnd

Our thank yous to the Marcus Valley Cinema for $5 Tuesday and $5 student Thursday nights, which made this all possible.

See you Tuesday on the barcalounger!