Well if there is something that I’m truly lacking(besides a home gym and wheatgrass smoothies in the morning) it would be my butt in a theater seat on the semi-regular. I’ve got no problems with keeping up on music as it’s been a habit since I was a pre-teen. It’s second nature. I used to be that way with films, too. We’d see a movie once or twice a week when we were younger, the wife and I that is. It was an event, heading into the theater to see a movie. Dinner and a movie, what’s better than that? I remember seeing Paul Thomas Anderson’s first three theatrical releases at the cinema(I saw Hard Eight, or Sydney for the first time on Sundance Channel in its short-film form.) Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter,…I saw all their films in the 90s and early 2000s at the theater. Cheesy horror films, comedies, dramas, we didn’t care. Just to get out and experience a film on the big screen was an absolute joy. I saw Silence of the Lambs three times in the theater, twice right after school my junior year of high school on an epic drive to Fort Wayne, IN to the Glenbrook Cinemas for a 4pm showing.
I think my love for film started as a little kid and going to the drive-in to see movies with my parents. I can remember seeing the first Superman and Every Which Way But Loose as a 4 or 5-year old. I can also remember having nightmares for a week after seeing Food of the Gods. House, Return of the Living Dead, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Thelma and Louise were a few others I got to experience sitting in a lawn chair in the back of an old grey Ford pick-up at the Warsaw Drive-In. The last movie I ever saw at Warsaw Drive-In was John Frankenheimer’s disaster The Island of Dr. Moreau. Richard Stanley, we hardly knew ye.
And so it goes.
I just don’t make it to the theater as often as I want to. And unless what I want to see hits a screen within 25 to 30 miles from me, it’s going to be an Amazon rental. But that doesn’t mean I still dont love films. I did watch quite a few movies this year, but there’s some glaring absences from my list. Suspiria, Roma, Sorry To Bother You, Black KKKlansman, Mission Impossible : Fallout, Isle of Dogs, The House That Jack Built, and a bunch more.
So here’s a few movies I did see that I liked.
Alex Garland is a filmmaker I’ll pretty much follow wherever he goes. I’ve been a fan of his writing since I first saw Danny Boyle’s The Beach. His partnership with Boyle was a highlight of the 2000’s for me. When Ex_Machina hit I was immediately blown away. It might be one of my favorite sci films, ever. Annihilation is one that is still working its way into my system. It’s such a dense and immense film that I feel I need to watch it a few more times before I can truly digest it all. Still, just on my initial viewing I was struck on a very visceral level. Part horror, part monster film, part sci fi, and part morality fable, the effects were incredible, the performances(particularly Natalie Portman and Gina Rodriguez) were outstanding, and there’s some truly amazing visuals. If you haven’t seen it, well worth your time.
People either seem to love Hereditary or hate it. I think we’ve been tricked so many times in the past few years when it comes to critically-acclaimed horror films that some can’t tell true horror films from the more morality dramas disguised as horror(I’m looking at you, Babadook and It Follows.) Make no mistake, Hereditary is a horror movie. Hell, the occult, demons, and ancient rituals are at play here. So is family dysfunction and dark family secrets. Mix it all together and it’s like Cassavetes making a horror film. Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Alex Wolff, and Ann Dowd are all absolutely phenomenal. There’s some truly disturbing and shocking moments in Hereditary, and an absolute feeling of dread that I couldn’t shake for days. One of my absolute favorite films of the year.
Paul Schrader still has it. First Reformed is a remarkable film about faith, loss of faith, and finding something else to believe in. At least, that’s what I got from it. Ethan Hawke is brilliant as Reverend Toller, a man haunted by the guilt of sending his son to the military and then him dying in combat. He’s an alcoholic and a man grasping by strands to a religion he feels is the only thing keeping him alive. He meets a young man who is convinced the world is crumbling due to environmental concerns. The man is married to a beautiful young wife, played by Amanda Seyfried. She’s pregnant and her husband is convinced they’re making a mistake bringing a child into the world. Two people losing faith in what they though was right, only to find meaning elsewhere. It’s a film filled with both dark and light. That description makes it sound a little too melodramatic. This is Paul Schrader. The writer of Taxi Driver, Hardcore, Sleeper, and one of my favorites, Affliction. A story about faith, faith lost, and redemption.
Tamara Jenkins Private Life is funny, sad, and filled with enough irreverence that the story at the heart of the film, two 40-somethings trying to get pregnant, never falls into schmaltzy territory. If you’ve seen Jenkins’ other films, The Slums of Beverly Hills and The Savages, then you know she doesn’t work in schmaltz. Pointed, raw humor about smart but flawed people in tough situations. The characters at the heart of Private Life are Richard Grimes and Rachel Biegler, played by Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn. The New York couple were heavily involved in the theater scene for years, with Rachel just finishing up a novel. They’ve been trying to have a baby for a long time with no luck. They decide to try and get an egg donor, which turns out to be their step niece Sadie, played by Kaylie Carter. With a supporting cast that includes Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch, and Denis O’Hare, the film works beautifully in a tone that brings classic Woody Allen and Todd Solondz together, but with a sweet relatability that grounds the story. I absolutely loved this.
Two brothers grew up in a death cult. The older brother realizes the danger they’re in and the two escape to live on the fringes, barely making ends meet. The younger brother begins to miss the people he grew up with and talks the older brother into going back to visit just for a day. Of course, things go completely wrong from there. The film is written and directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who also play the brothers at the center of the story, is an absolute mind fuck and plays with time, worm holes, and monsters we can’t see. I thought the film was brilliant and had some genuinely Lynchian weirdness. There was also a point halfway thru the film where I had this immense sense of deja vu. I could’ve sworn I’d seen The Endless already, but I knew I hadn’t. Then it struck me that I had seen a movie several years ago called Resolution that shared some of the same characters and even some of the plot lines of The Endless. Some quick digging revealed Benson and Moorhead had written and directed a film in 2012 called Resolution that involved some of the same plot lines. If you haven’t seen either, watch Resolution, then The Endless. You’ll thank me for it. Science fiction at its finest.
Sicario : Day of the Soldado
A tough and bloody action film with manly men doing manly things. A film where furrowed brows are a requirement, and knowing how to properly hold a semi-automatic rifle properly(you know, slightly cocked down at an angle as you have it pressed tightly to your chest) is a must. Listen, I know this one didn’t get the love that the first film got. Denis Villeneuve’s first film in the supposed trilogy was an arthouse film with explosions, violence, and mystery. Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio del Torro were all amazing in it, and each carried some emotional baggage that they never truly unpacked. From the brilliant cinematography of Roger Deakins to the score by the late and great Johann Johannsson and the tight screenplay by Taylor Sheridan, everything clicked. So what happened with the Day of the Soldado? Well, Villeneuve wasn’t around. Neither was Deakins or Johannsson. Or Emily Blunt. What we were left with was del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Taylor Sheridan. The arthouse vibes were traded in for a more nihilistic feel. That turned some off, while I enjoyed the ride I paid for. Benicio del Toro is let loose in Mexico to take out a Mexican drug lord. The drug lord’s daugther is kidnapped by US soldiers disguised as another drug cartel in order to start a war between the two drug lords. Of course things don’t work out that way and people die. Lots of them. I felt this film, despite lacking some key elements of the first film, still delivered. I’ll watch del Toro and Brolin brood any time.
Mandy is a fantasy fever dream of a film with Nicholas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, and Linus Roache turning in incredibly out there performances. The film involves Cage’s Red Miller, a logger living in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, and his mildly out there girlfriend Mandy(played by Riseborough.) Mandy is targeted by a local cult leader Jeremiah Sand(Linus Roache), who is the leader of the Children of the New Dawn. Mandy and Red are attacked by cenobite-looking bikers who are mutated and permanently psychotic thanks to a fantastical and terminal batch of LSD they are addicted to. Things go awry and Mandy is killed, leaving Red no choice but to lose his mind and hunt the whole lot of them down. It’s part Mad Max, The Beastmaster, and Heavy Metal all rolled into one beautifully-constructed nightmare thanks to the mind of Panos Cosmatos. With the doom-y score of Johann Johannsson, Mandy is perfectly balanced chaos, revenge, and melancholy.
I think David Gordon Green and Danny McBride kept true to an absolute classic without being a mere carbon copy of the original. They kept the balance of humor, horror, and wink-wink moments just right, and brought enough of themselves into the story to make seeing Halloween an immense pleasure. Michael Myers escapes from the custody of the state during a questionable transfer from one facility to another and makes his way back to Haddonfield to take out Laurie Strode(and a few other hapless victims.) Strode is a paranoid survivalist now, living in a literal fortress out in the boonies. Jamie Lee Curtis does an amazing job returning as Strode, and gives us a tough outer exterior and glimpses of the victimized teenager still living inside of her. Michael Myers isn’t hulking like the last few incarnations we’ve seen. He seems more like just a psychotic guy who seems to be unstoppable, which makes him that much more disturbing. The last 30 minutes are incredible. The supporting cast does a great job of giving us plenty of victims we feel bad for when they do get their reckoning by Mr. Myers. Of course John Carpenter’s new score for the film is perfect in that it’s recognizable, but not a repeat of what we’ve heard before.
I didn’t think I’d like Overlord as much as I did, but man I really liked it. It works well as a monster movie, science fiction nightmare, and a great WWII film. American troops are flying in to France the night before D-Day in order to take out a communications tower the Germans are using. When the few American troops that make it thru the midnight air ride arrive at a small village where the Germans are using an old church as a headquarters(and where the tower is located), they realize they’re up against far more than Nazi soldiers and a tower. The Nazis are experimenting on villagers and POWs, attempting to make a “super soldier”. What they’re really making are mutant creatures hell bent on killing anything in their way. Overlord is the best kind of B-movie. The kind that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but one that puts a lot of thought and time in making a convincing story with great effects and classic action sequences. Overlord is much better than you’d imagine.
Avengers : Infinity War
This is the kind of comic book movie I dreamed of seeing as a kid. Realistic action, real-world relatability, and superheroes that were funny and on my level. The Russo Brothers have brought all of that to their Marvel films, and Infinity War, while being maybe slightly longer than it needed to be, was the perfect climax to ten years of building a cinematic universe where the heroes of my childhood come alive beautifully. I loved Black Panther and Ant Man and the Wasp, but Infinity War is THE superhero film event of the decade(so far.) If you don’t have kids and you think superhero movies are garbage, well good for you. They’re popcorn flicks, for sure. But don’t underestimate the power behind these films. It’s not hacks putting them together to make a buck. There is story and heart and arcs and tragedy here.
You Were Never Really Here
Despite not much heavy dialogue and the very art house feel of Lynne Ramsay’s screen adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ book, You Were Never Really Here says a lot without saying a whole lot. Joaquin Phoenix does an outstanding job as Joe, a guy you hire when you need to have bad things happen to bad people. He lives with his mom and is a veteran who’s been seriously emotionally crippled by an abusive childhood and what he saw in the war. He’s hired to find a politician’s kidnapped daughter. Once he retrieves her, things go really bad from there. Double crosses, emotional connections, and violent climaxes ensue. I’d suggest seeing Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin before seeing this. If you don’t like her style, then you may not care for You Were Never Really Here. I did like it. Phoenix alone is reason enough to see this.
Here’s a few others I saw and really liked in 2018:
Ant Man and the Wasp
Black Mirror : Bandersnatch
Here’s some shows I really enjoyed in 2018 as well:
Daredevil Season 3(Netflix)
Jessica Jones Season 2(Netflix)
Bosch Season 4(Amazon)
Narcos : Mexico(Netflix)
Homeland Seasons 1-7(Showtime)
Jack Ryan Season 1(Amazon)
Iron Fist Season 2(Netflix)
Goliath Season 2(Amazon)
The Americans Final Season(FX)
Luke Cage Season 2(Netflix)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 1&2(Amazon)
The Innocent Man(Netflix)
As you can see, I see a lot more shows then films. I want to change that in 2019. Well, at least maybe even up the ratio between films and TV. There’s so much great creative output these days. These are exciting times to be a couch potato, people. It’s also an exciting time to be a cinema goer. Here’s to another solid year for storytelling.