Movie Reviews
Sunday , October 24 2021

2020 Films

(based on non-festival, U.S. theatrical release date)

1BR. This low-budget thriller shows its production seams at times and doesn’t quite stick the landing, but it has great pacing and a fascinating choice of premise (communists as body snatcher cult). (Grade: B-)

After Midnight. After Midnight certainly has an idea with potential (man’s girlfriend leaves him, monster appears nightly at man’s front door), but it is squandered by uneven performances and other low-budget maladies. (Grade: C)

Another Round. Slippery Slope: The Movie. (Grade: B-)

Archive. This low-budget, Ex Machina wannabe is problematic on a number of levels. But in a nutshell, the sci-fi conceits propping up the thematic expressions are simply too inelegant in their rendering and rely too much upon exposition from the film’s only human, who also happens to exude that smug asshole vibe from the get-go. (Grade: C)

The Assistant. Seriously though, all of you corporate employees out there know that HR is not your friend, right? (Grade: A)

Babyteeth. There’s a lot of cute here—like the fourth wall-breaking glances from the main character—but not much else.  The fundamental problem starts in the film’s very first sequence: if the underlying romantic attraction is unbelievable, due to the drug-addicted homeless participant in said relationship being utterly charmless, then not much else is going to ring true.  It should go without saying (an expression I find myself using with more and more frequency these day), but there is a difference between giving the audience due credit and taking the audience for granted; and in this instance, what we end up with is a slog of a film. (Grade: C-)

Bacurau. I was totally on board with the blunt microcosmic metaphor—spaghetti Western by way of Buñuel—of a first act.  But for me, the magic quickly dissipates when the proceeding shifts to The Most Dangerous Game mode. (Grade: C+)

Bad Education. For better or for worse, these scandal-biopics tend to be ensemble affairs (e.g., The Big Short). But in my opinion, this rather oblique critique of contemporary capitalism would have benefited greatly from going all in on the student journalist’s point of view. (Grade: B-)

Bad Hair. I loved the first act of this Tales from the Hood-ish riff on ‘80s horror flicks, even if the pacing and the special effects/editing drag it down by the third.  And I agree with several others who have observed that the viewing experience would benefit greatly from an audience: perhaps this may be one to save for a midnight showing during some future Halloween season. (Grade: B-)

Bill & Ted Face the Music. Featuring Kristen Schaal as George Carlin’s offspring (hell yeah!), there’s something undeniably entrancing about this, with its bigger budget and more enthusiastic embrace of the shambolic versus the previous installments … Question: Is the prevalence of the this-is-the-movie-we-need-now sentiment really a reflection of how irony-impaired we’ve become? (Grade: B-)

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). The bar was set about as low as it could go with Suicide Squad, which I believe explains the inflated scores; but this is also a case of setting the bar lower for female-dominated action films – as a certain group of cinephiles will give an extra star or two to a film like this solely due to the identities of the director and cast, the filmmakers tend to take much of the audience for granted (a problem that I think can only be solved, perhaps ironically, by there being more female-dominated subgenre fare in the competitive marketplace).  Outside of Margot Robbie’s kinetic and colorful rendering of the title character, however, much of the dialogue lands with a thud; the storytelling is as blunt and monochromatic as its gender politics (underscored with a pink highlighter in the film’s only manifestation of a supernatural power); and the Birds of Prey themselves have little on-screen chemistry.  I am not familiar with the comic book, but I think this particular antihero deserved a better crafted script and better supporting performances. (Grade: C+)

Black Bear. Even given the metatextual conceit of its own framing device, the dual narrative—which plays with the apples and oranges of social psychology and gender politics—felt distinctly lopsided in pacing.  There is a reason why a three-act structure tends to be more satisfying than two, and notwithstanding the parallels and inversions, the ending left me wanting. (Grade: C+)

Blow the Man Down. The Coen-esque pitch has promise, but the execution is wobbly at best. And I guess intrusive scores are a positive thing now? (Grade: C+)

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Although the experience would seem to be far more frequent from reading film blogs and letterboxd entries, in the 46 years since my parents first took me to the cinema to see Young Frankenstein, I can count on one hand the number of times that I actually noticed incensed patrons depart early due to something they saw on screen.  The opening night of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was one of those occasions.  Two college-aged males (one with greek letters embossed on the back of his shirt) were seated directly in front of me and my friend—with one seat between them, of course—loudly laughing it up and lapping up the distinctly unpolitically correct humor – that is, until the unnecessarily lengthy sequence where two naked hairy men wrestle and chase each other around a hotel.   I don’t remember exactly what they said as they got up and left in a huff, but I did hear a “Jesus Christ!”  Yeah, Borat made my top 10 of that year. … However, Borat the character, as an effective tool of satire, is a victim of his own success, and it would be impossible to replicate the experience of the original film, a conceit that worked so well because it was conceived in an era of reality TV over-saturation: in 2006, we could believe that no one in the real world would have batted an eye at the intrepidly inappropriate foreigner being followed around by a camera.  But everything being exposed that lied just beneath the surface—in both the film’s subjects and its audience—is no longer beneath the surface.  We now live in an age where a smart phone-fueled Youtube reveals a social and political reality that not even Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles could have imagined 14 years ago.  Former reality TV star/U.S. President Donald Trump tweets worse things than the deposed Richard Nixon ever said—and tried to conceal—in the Oval Office; and the former is not impeachable for his behavior because he doesn’t hide it, and he doesn’t hide it because a significant enough portion of our population just no longer cares. … As such, this mockumentary sequel needed to step up its game, and although it has its share of funny moments (and Tom Hanks proves once again that he is the best sport ever), Cohen and company ultimately choose to pull their punches when it mattered the most.  To be specific, the Rudy Giuliani sequence should have been allowed to play out.

Cuties. Cuties is certainly on the upper end of the most recent batch of neo-neorealist films.  Although there is a certain redundancy to the narrative that kept me from loving this, it’s nice to see an indie with some cold hard truths on display (as opposed to padding for the bubble) … For all those (mostly in the U.S.) peddling in outrage, who saw the “exploitative” imagery in the promotional materials and insisted upon cancelling their Netflix accounts, the only response I have for you is this wonderful little interview with John Cleese. (Grade: B-)

Da 5 Bloods. Dear Black People: You deserved a better war film. Much better. … Dear White People: You can be against racism and a militarized police presence and still call out a slog of a film for its patently poor craft (in this instance, from top to bottom). So far, I’ve listened to three mildly positive reviews by renowned reviewers/podcasters that sounded more like veiled apologies. If Da 5 Bloods wasn’t directed by Spike Lee and you weren’t falling all over yourselves to signal how woke you are amidst the current ephemera of anecdotally-driven protests, I bet that a certain landmine-saving sequence would already be gif’d into a meme for twitterverse ridicule. (Grade: C-)

The Devil All the Time. I haven’t read any reviews or any background other than the credits, but this nihilistic, flaccid ensemble melodrama seems destined for the overflowing wastebasket of popular cinema labeled “Not as Good as the Novel.”  I mean, the source material just had to be more compelling than this to get the project green lit, right? (Grade: C)

Dick Johnson Is Dead. With what I do for a living, Kirsten Johnson’s second film hooked me in the first 10 minutes with its rather unique approach to mortality, which really shouldn’t be that unique.  (Wouldn’t it be better to have a memorial service beforethe honoree dies?)  In this case, grappling head on—prematurely, some might be predisposed to say—with the death of her own father, via a mix of contemplative documentary and staged enactments of deaths and moments in the afterlife, is precipitated by circumstances that more and more families have had to face as life expectancies have increased: Dick Johnson is not so much facing his death as he is disappearing.  All of that said, as intellectually Intrigued as I may be with the ideas, this is the second time that Johnson’s work has left me wanting in terms of emotional impact.  My best rationalization for this—my attempt to justify the subjective with the objective—would be to point out the film’s meandering, undisciplined structure.  More specifically, I don’t think all of the everyday and theatrical elements are always necessary or always pieced together in a way that engages the viewer in the right ways.  (For example, about 2/3rds of the way through, there is a longish shot of her father standing in front of a subway platform as a train approaches, and at that point in the film, it seems Johnson is trying to have a bit of fun with the viewers, but I’m not sure how that serves the purpose of the piece.) (Grade: B-)

Emma. Leaning in to its hermetically-sealed milieu of true privilege with an unapologetically cartoonish air,  Emma [full stop] is so well executed, across the board, that it would be difficult—even for a cinephile not within Jane Austen’s demographic—not to derive some pleasure from its bittersweet treats. (Grade: B-)

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. Not enough elves. (Grade: C-)

Feels Good Man. One part of me wishes this documentary had spent less time charting a battle in the culture war and more time digging a little deeper, a little more scientifically, into Richard Dawkins’ original concept of a “meme” as the gene of cultural evolution.  But another part of me feels like that inquiry most likely would ultimately lead to same place: a series of random indulgences in the basest of psychological and sociological impulses. (Grade: C+)

First Cow. A really little film; a really big indictment of capitalism. (Grade: B+)

Greenland. It’s not exactly Emmerich-meets-Malick, even if it strives to be at times; but I was engaged for the whole runtime, which is more than I can say for virtually every entry that I’ve seen in this genre. (Grade: C+)

Happiest Season. Surprisingly delightful, but I might like a spin-off with Allison Brie and/or Aubrey Plaza better. (Grade: B-)

Holidate. Ok, yes, I do have a little crush on Emma Roberts. (Grade: C)

The Hunt. Silly, blunt satire for the silent majority of moderates, who are constantly challenged to bear the terminally self-righteous, irony-impaired tribes of the 20% farthest to the Left and the 20% on the farthest Right hyperbolize, conflate, and stereotype (according to their own double standards) in what passes for political and social discourse these days; so of course, expect the members of each tribe to opine that this movie disproportionally picks upon them.  More of this please.  And Betty Gilpin too. (Grade: B-)

Host. Host is an admirable effort to create the first Zoom-based horror film of the coronavirus era.   It certainly captures the moment with some effective humor, and amidst the bloat of contemporary streaming entertainment, manages not to overstay its welcome (clocking in at 56 minutes).  But even if you’re up for a lot jump scares, the endgame is haunted by that singular distraction that creeps up in virtually all of the post-Blair Witch Project subgenre entries: inevitably, you find yourself asking, why is she carrying still around that camera/laptop? (Grade: C+)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Imagine what it would be like to succumb to the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease—unable to distinguish between present identities and past identities, words said and words read, reality and TV, reality and movies, reality and theatre—making your way through the remainder of life amidst a hazy white blur. That. For two hours and 14 minutes. (Grade: C+)

I’m Your Woman. Look at that poster.  You know you want to watch it. (Grade: B-)

The Invisible Man. A superhero origin story? (Grade: B)

I Used to Go Here. I have serious doubts that a film like Young Adult (2011) could get made in the current socio-political environment; I Used to Go There is the kind of film that could get made. Still, it’s nice to see Gillian Jacobs working. (Grade: C+)

The King of Staten Island. I wanted to like this, but I think my relationship with Judd Apatow—or more specifically, third-act Judd Apatow—has run its course. (Grade: C+)

The Last Blockbuster. If there is one 2020 documentary that is most likely to be appreciated only by viewers of a certain age, this is it.  Although it is an interesting piece of cultural history, the nostalgia factor here may be just too high.  (Grade: C+)

The Lodge. Kids are just the worst. (Grade: B)

The Lovebirds. With Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, this really should’ve been way better. I mean, really. (Grade: C+)

Lovers Rock. Essentially, Thank God It’s Friday (1978) as a serious, culturally-relevant art film … but with only one horrendous disco song and lots of crucifixes … which I didn’t dig as much as others perhaps because my approach to parties has always been to find the other introvert and talk to him/her all night as far away from all that dancing as possible. (Grade: C+)

Mangrove. Comparisons to the recent Netflix biopic, The Trial of the Chicago 7, are fair, as this first film in Amazon’s Small Axe anthology covers the lead up and trial of the “Mangrove 9” who faced very similar charges less than two years later.  As “timely” (read: pandering) cinematic history lessons go, however, Mangrove is certainly the better film.  With an opening that recalls Do the Right Thing (1989), the time and place will be new to most viewers: a vibrant enclave of Black folk, hailing primarily from the West Indies, in Notting Hill, London, circa 1968.  And then there’s the spot-on cast, and specifically, the choice to make Shaun Parkes’ restaurant owner—hardly the typical self-righteous activist—the center of gravity, thus earning moments like the static shot of the verdict being read.  Ironically enough, the primary problem with this film is it’s abbreviated narrative, it’s failure to adequately exploit the milieu and the characters it’s got going for it — that is to say, this flagship of the Small Axe anthology should have been a 4-part series in and of itself. (Grade: B)

Mank. Deja vu.  I’m left with the same feeling of meh that I had when I walked out the theater after The Straight Story in 1999.  Inside the shiny thin veneer of a notable director doing “something completely different!” with a “personal” biopic—and in this instance, cozying up all meta-like to fans of You Must Remember This—is a hodgepodge of rather tiresome themes and tropes.  I hope we get the real David Fincher back real soon. (Grade: C+)

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. In light of his untimely death earlier this year, Chadwick Boseman is a shoe in to sweep this awards season for most acting in this stagebound feature, but Viola Davis is the real MVP here.  Wow.   She chews the scenery and spits it out in all of the best ways. (Grade: B-)

Monster Hunter. Even as the CGI technology gets better, these genre films still get more and more cartoonish. (Grade: C-)

My Octopus Teacher. Every once in a while, I come across a movie entry where the letterboxd reviews almost invariably tell me more about the reviewers than the film itself – in this case, e.g., unmitigated contempt for all middle-aged white males, inclination to see the sexual in just about anything involving touch, use of terms like “manipulative” … (Grade: B)

Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Bottom Line: If you’re in the mood for this kind of film, I couldn’t possibly recommend 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007) more than this. … The performances by Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder are undeniably strong.  But notwithstanding the extent to which writer/director Eliza Hittman attempts to humanize this drama with the hallmarks of neo-neorealism, this is a film driven, first and foremost, by a political agenda.  And I tend to have problems with such films, even when—indeed, especially whenI agree with the agenda (as is the case here), since filmmakers who are so motivated often lack any sense of nuance in their conveyances – resulting in little more than an exercise in preaching to the converted. … Ironically enough, perhaps, with the central drama revolving around an unintended pregnancy, NRSA somehow also manages to be too coy for its own good.  As if any violation of the Bechdel test could carry the death penalty, Hittman overcommits to the Female Perspective, the inorganic effects of which are most evident from her refusal to even entertain any discussion that would reveal who impregnated her main character – even in the interactions with the character’s otherwise inquisitive cousin-confidant.  (The closest we get to a clue is an odd interaction between the family dog and “Ted,” whose nonfilial designation in the credits suggests is a step-father or mother’s live-in boyfriend.)  Combined with the fact that virtually every male character on display is doing something overtly misogynistic or downright creepy, what we’re left with feels more like an argument for the unmitigated evil of the patriarchy than a realistic examination of its subject matter.  Hittman just couldn’t risk muddying the ideological waters with too much humanity. … (I would characterize this as Retributive Cinema: groups that have been subject to grossly oversimplified characterizations in all those films by the “white patriarchy” make films populated by grossly oversimplified characterizations of white males; it’s not particularly illuminating, but hey, everybody loves a tale of revenge, even if it is metatextual.) (Grade: C)

The New Mutants. Think A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), but with 50% less teen stereotyping, 75% less intentional/unintentional humor, and 100% less Dokken on the soundtrack. (Grade: D+)

Palm Springs. Not being a big fan of the permutations of Groundhog Day (1993) that have emerged in recent years (e.g., Edge of Tomorrow (2014), Russian Doll (2019), I have to say that Palm Springs was the most pleasant surprise—and may just be the most rewatchable movie—of the unique year that was 2020. Director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siera devised a pretty clever approach to riffing on that beloved film: use the audience’s familiarity to abbreviate the storytelling, without being cute with overt references; adopt two perspectives instead of one; and answer some of those unanswered questions behind the original conceit without necessarily committing to a full explanation. But none of this would work as well as it does without spot on performances – notably, Andy Samberg and Cristin Milloti, but most notably, Milloti. (Grade: A-)

Possessor [Uncut]. This one really had potential leading into an unnecessarily messy third act.  To put it in terms of writer/director Brandon Cronenberg following in the footsteps of his father, I wish this stylishly austere tale of an assassin (Andrea Riseborough) who overtakes the consciousness of a would be fall guy (Christopher Abbott) had a good deal more Dead Ringers (1988) and a good deal less EXistenZ (1999). (Grade: B-)

Project Power. I had more fun with this than I care to admit. Because yeah, even I miss the summer blockbusters. (Grade: C)

Promising Young Woman. To me, the second most interesting sequence of this divisive film involves a confrontation between our antiheroine (Carey Mulligan) and a criminal defense lawyer/promoter of injustice (Alfred Molina).  (I said to myself, “surely that is not how this interaction ends.”)  But among a growing crop of emerging filmmakers with a distinctly post-metoo take, writer/director Emerald Fennell manages to acknowledge the humanity of the contemporary Western white male—without compromising the critique of the systems at play and the people who populate them—far better than the indie darling du jour, Eliza Hittman, and her strained commitment to Bechdel compliance (Never Rarely Sometimes Always).  And these moments of recognition of the white male as a (partially) redeemable presence are reflected within the unlikely form of a darkly comedic, female-driven psychodrama.  The woke ideologues of our cancel culture will predictably criticize these aspects of Promising Young Woman for muddying their message; but it is this sense of humanity—in both its male and female characters—that distinguishes a pointed narrative that rings true from a mere exercise in preaching to the converted … In any case, can we all agree that Mulligan is giving a career-best performance? … And by all means, let’s talk about that third act: a blunt moral strike (no violence goes unpunished); a cynical expression of reality (the house always wins); a finger wag back at the audience (all primed and ready for bloody sweet revenge)?  All of the above?  None of the above? (Grade: A-)

Red, White and Blue. Father: Big change.  That is a SLOW-turning wheel … Son: Sometimes I think the Earth needs to be scorched.  Replant it so something good will come of it.  Something good. (Grade: B-)

Relic. The positive press for Relic promised a female-centered horror film exploring the effects of dementia on families. Yeah, there are some j-horror elements and even a clever reference to Under the Skin (2014). But the filmmakers’ need to underscore the metaphorical content drowns out the fundamental storytelling and any real sense of terror or even chills. (Grade: C+)

Saint Frances. I thought I’d patronize the art cinema across the street one last time before they shut down for an indeterminate period – as has been decreed by the powers that be, who most certainly don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck, to compensate for their own poor planning.  Admittedly, my mood was not good.  Saint Frances did not help. … I’ve read enough Vox and watched enough Fox to anticipate how this will play out among the tribes: for those of the progressive faith on the coasts, this Sundance-y little indie-that-could will undoubtedly feel like food for the woke soul, a satisfaction of their diversity fetish; and for those elites that serve as the cultural filter for all those good Christians in the red states, this provocation will certainly be interpreted as a repudiation of their own ideological forays into “mainstream” cinema (Unplanned (2019)). … But for this particular viewer who has grown numb to cinematic virtue signaling (which, in this instance, pushes at least two sequences uncomfortably close to self-parody), Saint Frances is not nearly as cute, funny, moving, or conscious of humanity as it thinks it is; and the title character—in terms of both the writing and the performance by Kelly O’Sullivan—could hardly be less compelling. (Grade: D+)

Save Yourselves!  I am not sure I would recommend this horror/satire: the social critique is a bit too on the nose to strongly recommend and writers/directors Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson really don’t stick the landing.  That said, as unlikable as their characters are, I kinda enjoyed hanging out in crazyland with Sunita Mani and John Reynolds for an hour and a half.  (Grade: C+)

Sea Fever. Notwithstanding the engaging lead performance by Hermione Corfield, this low-budget, sea-bound riff on The Thing (1982) ultimately suffers from an over-indulgence in cliché. (Grade: C+)

She Dies Tomorrow. One star is for the prophetic line “a movie is only an hour and a half,” and the other star is for that portion of the run time that we get to spend with any actor other than the ever emoting Kate Lyn Sheil. (Grade: C-)

Shirley. A unique opportunity to explore a mysterious persona—even though rendered ambitiously by Elizabeth Moss—is undermined by a ponderous script, nauseous cinematography, and obnoxious score. (Grade: C-)

Shithouse. As many others have pointed out, the centerpiece sequence of this college days dramedy plays like Before Sunrise (1995), but for a less snotty, social-media weened iGen set.  Although this debut feature by writer/director/actor Cooper Raif doesn’t quite stick the landing, I was interested enough in the characters—who felt very real, albeit not the standard fare for the average feature or TV series—to look forward to each succeeding scene.  And by 2020 streamfest standards, that’s saying a lot. (Grade: B)

The Social Dilemma. I realize that this is trying to sell itself primarily as a documentary, and the subject matter is worthy of serious consideration, but the casting of Pete from Mad Men in this might just be one of the best choices of 2020. (Grade: B-)

Soul. Not being that much of a fan of the subgenre, I’ll just opine that this is musical high point for Pixar: from the opening Disney logo to the last of the closing credits, so many different things going on emotionally beyond the traditional jazz, but not a single weak moment in my book. (Grade: B)

Sound of Metal. I originally had high hopes for this film, having heard about the pitch (a character study of a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing), the original writer/director attached (Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine (2010), The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)), and the original casting of the main character (Matthias Schoenaerts, Bullhead (2011), Rust and Bone (2012)).  Then three years passed and a new co-writer director (Darius Marder) and new cast was announced – not a good sign.  But savvy direction and sound design by Marder and Nicolas Becker—and remarkably subtle performances by Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, and Paul Raci—elevate this little indie into a real high point for authentic narrative cinema in 2020. (Grade: B+)

Sputnik. Think Alien 3 (1992), as only a contemporary Russian filmmaker could reimagine it. (Grade: B-)

Swallow. Swallow begins as a tale of a pregnant young wife who, physically and emotionally secluded in a life of privilege, succumbs to an irresistible impulse of swallowing inedible objects, but ultimately evolves into something else entirely. And honestly, if that is how this film had been pitched to me, I probably would have passed. But writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis is a sly one – unafraid to wield blunt metaphor or bleed subtext into text, while hiding subtleties in the seemingly unsubtle (e.g., a visual reference to Revenge (2018) in the would-be nursery). And with a big assist from actor Haley Bennett (who may have been deliberately cast to vaguely remind us of Michelle Williams), this one earns its bold, if uneasy, catharsis. (Grade: B+)

System Crasher. If I was dictator for a day, this would be required viewing for anyone who loved The Florida Project. But alas. Helena Zengel would certainly get my vote for best child performance of the year. (Grade: B)

Tenet. Memento (2001) and The Prestige (2006) both sit comfortably in my top 100 of all time, and in my book, Inception (2009) is the last truly great non-franchise summer blockbuster.  So you could say that I am routing for the guy to succeed.  But on re-viewing, I can only come to the conclusion that this environmental/generational parable is the point in Christopher Nolan’s oeuvre where he finally got his head stuck up his own ass. (Grade: C+)

Tesla. I was surprisingly underwhelmed by this.  With all of the cute stuff going on here (Bono’s daughter as the fourth wall-breaking narrator, anachronistic mobile phones, a spontaneous rendition of a 1980s classic, etc.), Ethan Hawke’s take on the title character, which seems to vacillate between stoic and melancholic, ends up being a real drag. (Grade: C+)

Time. I do not think that choosing not to convert the home movies that make up the bulk of this documentary to black and white would have undermined the sense of time that the filmmakers were attempting to convey or that being more forthright about the facts of the underlying case would have jeopardized the appeal to the average viewer’s sense of sympathy and mercy. And yet, I think these elements, or lack thereof, detracted from the authenticity and honesty of the piece. (Grade: C+)

Tread. As a documentary about how personal grievances become political in the most violent and metaphorical of ways, I recommend only if you knew nothing about the underlying incident. (Grade: C+)

The Trial of the Chicago 7. I submit that a high rating for this political feel-goodie says more about the viewer than the film. Notwithstanding the solid performances by Eddie Redmayne (as Tom Hayden) and Sacha Baron Cohen (as Abbie Hoffman), this feels more like an above average TV movie of the week than writer/director Aaron Sorkin’s follow up to Molly’s Game (2017) or Steve Jobs (2015). (Grade: C)

The Vast of Night. This feels like a trust-funded film student’s jumbled exercise in formalism. And for all of the film’s connections to the radio age, the basic sound is horrible, and the monologues sound more like recitations. (Grade: C-)

Vivarium. I guess it’s just me and Mark Kermode for this one. … Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg: the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks of contemporary indie cinema? (Grade: B+)

The Way Back. A character study with too little faith in its character and a sense of authenticity that is ultimately undermined by a plot point intended to reel in that last portion of the audience who believe addiction is essentially a character flaw excusable only for those who suffer the ultimate trauma. (Grade: C)

What Killed Michael Brown? https://letterboxd.com/aflixionado/film/what-killed-michael-brown/ (Grade: B)

What Lies Below. Even if her character as written sorta deserved the ending, Ema Horvath didn’t deserve this script.  This Netflix movie of the weekly top 10 feels like a bizarre mashup of The Stepfather (1987) and Humanoids from the Deep (1980), which is like taking two 2.5 / 5 rated movies and hoping to get a 5 / 5 result.  But that’s not really how the math works. (Grade: C+)

Wonder Woman 1984. There is a key sequence in this film that epitomizes one of the primary problems with this shambolic sequel: inspired by the observations of her pilot lover, we see Diana Prince/Wonder Woman soaring above the clouds.  At times she seems to be swinging from lightning—or some other invisible object—using her lasso of truth that suddenly appears to sprout to near infinite lengths at will; and at other times, she seems to be flying unaided in a straight line like Superman.  Setting aside the appropriateness of this scene in terms of the comic book mythology, co-writer/director Patty Jenkins doesn’t seem to be very interested in sticking to any particular set of rules when it comes to world building.  And as a result, a moment intended to be magical and majestic ends up being anything but. … As was the case in the cinematic debut of this character, the third-act action sequences here are poorly executed, even by DCEU standards, with Kristin Wiig’s much-anticipated characterization of Cheetah made up like a reject from the most mocked and maligned movie of last year.  Unlike the commercial hit that was the previous installment, however, the fundamentals of effective storytelling here are woefully neglected on just about every level: the character arcs are muddy, the pacing is indulgent, and the thematic conveyances are strained by overplotting.  Jenkins has squandered the goodwill she built with audiences in 2017.  What could have been, at very least, a good bit of retro superhero fun—as teased by that Blue Monday-cued trailer—ends up being a big hot mess. (Grade: C-)

The Wolf of Snow Hollow. Riki Lindome is the best thing about this horror whodunnit, and given its premise and themes, the overall narrative would have benefited from taking on her perspective.  It is, unfortunately, a film written, directed, and starring Jim Cummings (Thunder Road (2018)).  While his writing could certainly use a bit of work, it is his own unmodulated performance that sinks this for me.  To say that Cummings cannot pull off the intended tonal shifts would be an understatement; with his frequent failures at “anger management” on display, I simply cannot believe that he is a high school graduate, much less a sheriff in waiting.  And as the ending to this film feels unearned, so to would be any sympathy for its cartoonish main character. (Grade: C)

The Wrong Missy. Make no mistake – this is a horrible film. And yet, I could not take my eyes off Lauren Lapkus. (Grade: C)

Yes, God, Yes. This is what after-school specials should have been. (Grade: B-)

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